Coton dans tous ses états: Textes du colloque du 12 mai 2006, Gembloux, Belgique, Le
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Cotton farming is a very old activity. More recently, cotton fi bre production impacted industrial history and allowed a tremendous rise of the textile industry. African cotton cropping, which mainly relies on rainfed agriculture, family farming and hand picking, is very different compared with the one conducted in large scale farming countries dealing with intensifi cation systems, irrigation and capital intensive management. An analysis of fundamentals of the world offer and demand for cotton initially highlights that China, UnitedStates, followed by India and Pakistan are major actors at the production level and count for more than two thirds of the worldvolumes. For several decades, the international cotton fibre consumption increased at an annual average rate that was very close to the one of the production. The main producers are also the main cotton consumers. Among them, China is the most important by far, absorbing more of the third of world consumption in 2004. This tendency will still clearly increase during next years. The large world cotton fi bre suppliers are, fi rst of all, the United States, followed by the African countries of FCFA zone. As most of the other agricultural basic commodities, the international cotton prices are characterized by a downward long-term trend. China has a strong incidence on this world market, because of its statute of fi rst producer and consumer.Production cost decrease noted in a great number of countries does not explain by itself price reduction. It is kept up with other factors: the subsidies granted by some countries to their cotton producers, in particular the United States. Cotton represents a substantial economic and social importance for the African countries which grow it, in particular those of fCFA zone. But, whereas cotton crop allowed these countries and their populations adopting undeniable socio-economic progress, it gives them nowadays a lot of trouble. Thus, after having suffered various crises during the last decades, African cotton chains are now confronted with a major crisis, without precedent by its extent. The stakes raised by cotton cropping in these African countries are numerous and complex. They constitute real challenges to be taken up. The main ones are underlined: competitive positionof African cotton in the world market; competition with synthetic fi bres; stakes of biotechnological crops; increase in the costsof the factors of production; aspects related to the quality of African cotton; diversifi cation of the productions; development ofnew cotton chains; local transformation of fi bre and valorisation of by-products; environmental concerns. In this context, we observe the emergence of African cotton farmer associations which are widening and investing, both in their own cotton chain and on the international scene, a new fi eld of infl uence.