By Akanimo Sampson
Cotton is always around humans in clothing, linens, furniture, mattresses, vehicles, and much more. It is the most abundantly produced natural fibre in the world, and yet rarely celebrated.
That is going to change this Monday, when the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and its partners mark the first World Cotton Day in Geneva, Switzerland, in a global celebration of cotton’s contributions to people’s lives, both as a fibre and a source of livelihood.
UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said “cotton’s many industrial applications make it an ideal foundation for upgrading and diversification strategies that allow producing countries to benefit more from trade.”
Approximately 26 million farmers grow cotton, in 75 countries. Growing cotton and processing it into, for example, textiles and apparel, provides jobs and incomes to approximately 100 million families worldwide.
Cotton is a drought-resistant crop, providing reliable income to farmers in areas where agriculture is under serious threat from climate change and/or recurrent drought.
Cotton occupies just 2.1% of the world’s arable land, yet it meets 27% of the world’s textile needs. It is also one of the most important traded commodities, with an annual traded value of approximately $8.00 billion.
The cotton value chain is long, with multiple processing steps, leading to investment, job creation and industrial upgrading.
UNCTAD is a founding partner of World Cotton Day, alongside the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, the International Cotton Advisory Committee, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
This October 7 event being hosted by the WTO responds to a draft resolution submitted by Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali (the “Cotton-4” countries) to the UN General Assembly for recognition of a World Cotton Day, reflecting the importance of cotton as a global commodity.
World Cotton Day matters to developing countries by highlighting cotton’s enormous potential to contribute to poverty reduction and economic development.
With two thirds of developing countries dependent on exports of commodities, a core part of UNCTAD’s work involves building countries’ capacity to move up the value chain and diversify their exports.
Through its technical cooperation work, UNCTAD has assisted cotton-producing countries, mainly in Africa, to improve their yields, meet international standards and attract investments in value-added industries.”
“More can be done to realise the development potential of cotton, especially in Africa”, Kituyi said. “Trade negotiations must foster regional integration and provide equitable trading opportunities for producing countries, big and small.”
Cotton is grown mainly for its fibre, or lint – the raw material in cotton textiles. But commercial applications exist for other parts of the cotton plant, such as the stalks, husks, cottonseed and short-staple fibres.
Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD, Kris Terauds, said “these by-products represent an opportunity for producing countries to unlock further benefits from cotton production.”
Despite many efforts to enhance local value addition, integrated cotton-to-textile value chains in Africa are currently inactive or absent.
Given the continued difficulty in reviving textile and apparel industries in Africa, cotton by-products represent potential additional income streams that can improve resilience.
UNCTAD is building on its earlier work for cotton-producing countries with a new joint initiative with the WTO and ITC on cotton by-products.