Depending on where in the world you are and who you talk to, white gold may have a different meaning. When in Burkina Faso, white gold usually refers to cotton.
Cotton is quite a popular crop for farmers in several West African countries, including Burkina Faso. I’m just a few weeks late for the harvest. And just in time to see huge piles of cotton stock awaiting transport.
Laughing out loud and wondering why I am so fascinated by it, proud villagers are more than happy to satisfy my curiosity.
‘We don’t have cotton fields in The Netherlands’, I explain.
‘Ooohhooo’, they reply in surprise with wide grins.
‘Can I take a picture of it?’
They nod, gesturing that I can even climb on the pile. No worries that the dust of my shoes and clothes will dirty the cotton, the wind will take the dust, I am assured.
Needing no more encouragement I climb on the cotton feeling very comfortable with the softness and brightness of it.
The farmers are being paid 245 FCFA per kilo of cotton this year, the equivalent of about € 0,374.
‘Most farmers need additional means of income’, my local guide explains.
Following the farmers going on strike, refusing to grow any more cotton, the government no more allows any farmer to grow just cotton. When owning about 10 ha of land, they may be allowed 8 ha of cotton and 2 ha of corn and/or millet. Just to make sure there will be food.
Cotton may be called the white gold, but it’s not the farmers that get rich.
Grains that have been donated by other countries, are sold to the farmers by the government. The government, fixing the per kilo price, is also the only buyer, owning the four plants in the country.
Middlemen supply the farmers with equipment, but not for free. They also arrange a lot of formalities between farmers and the cotton plants, since a lot of farmers are illiterate.
It may take weeks or even months before the cotton arrives at the plant. And several more months may pass before a representative of the plant or a middleman returns to the village to hand over the money. Kilos paid for may be less than the farmers had expected, outstanding loans for grains or equipment will instantly be settled. The money left will not feed the family till the next harvest, leading to another loan.
In 2010 farmers payments of the harvest were late, very late. The lack of money created a famine. Farmers started to revolt. Finally the government paid the farmers, creating a military revolt, since there was no money left to pay the soldiers…
Even though things may have changed slightly since, there is still a lot of room for improvement. The government’s monopoly, the often doubtful role of the middlemen, scales that favor the buyer and the government fixing the prices, result in a few rich getting richer…