Australian farmers and scientists share cotton lessons with West Africa

By March 13th, 2012

In a new partnership with sub-Saharan Africa, Australian scientists and farmers are hosting a delegation of key African cotton industry representatives and researchers to share their knowledge and insight to help improve farming practices and thereby reduce poverty in West Africa.

The Australian cotton industry has a world-wide reputation for its high yields and quality fibre and can offer vital assistance to West and Central Africa where cotton is an important income source. 

The largest cotton producing countries in the region are Chad, Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso (often called the Cotton-4 countries). Six representatives from these countries will spend two weeks touring the cotton growing regions of Queensland and New South Wales with Australian scientists from the CSIRO, cotton industry representatives and farmers. 

Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director of CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture flagship, said non-staple crops like cotton are extremely important for West Africa.

“These crops provide small holder farmers with cash to either purchase food or buy farm inputs that can be used to grow other food crops like maize and sorghum. Cash crops also offer important income sources for things like school fees and medical expenses,” Dr Carberry said.

Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), through its International Agricultural Cooperation program, with support from Conservation Farmers Inc (CFI), the team will exchange lessons on how to improve West and Central Africa’s cotton production systems, particularly cotton seed production.

“These crops provide small holder farmers with cash to either purchase food or buy farm inputs that can be used to grow other food crops like maize and sorghum,”

said CSIRO’s Dr Peter Carberry.

“There are some important commonalities between the production systems in West and Central Africa and Australia. The crops we grow are similar and we both struggle with highly variable climates,” Dr Carberry said.

Dr Ousmane Ndoye, a researcher from Senegal and Program Manager from West and Central Africa’s CORAF/WECARD1 is excited by this partnership. 

“Australia has been able to overcome so many similar issues and is now the world’s third largest exporter of cotton, producing 4.2 million bales of cotton in 2011, which is around double the Cotton-4 countries,” Dr Ndoye said.

“The team from West and Central Africa are keen to learn the lessons from Australia to really help our farmers understand how to improve their yields.

“We’ll take the group from Toowoomba to Narrabri, training on-farm with Australian farmers and industry representatives. We’ll cover cotton agronomy based on the Australian Cotton Industry’s Best Management Practices, visit our cotton seed production and storage facilities and engage with cotton researchers at Myall Vale,” Michael Burgis, CEO of CFI, said.

Dr Ndoye is expecting big results. “After our visit to Australia, this small group will return to our respective countries and train at least 25 industry workers and farming representatives,” Dr Ndoye said.

Note for media: The group will commence their tour from Toowoomba and the Darling Downs on 14 March, travel to Narrabri via Goondiwindi and Moree, then Tamworth and onto Canberra on 20 March.

Dr Ndoye, Dr Carberry and Mr Burgis are available for media interviews.

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