With worldwide annual production of some 22 million tonnes (2009/10) of cotton fibre grown in some 35 countries, cotton is among the most important commodities in international trade.
The FAO estimates that nearly 100 million rural families directly depend on cotton production. For some countries in West Africa, cotton is the main driving force behind economic development, with cotton earnings accounting for 40 - 60 % of GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Chad and Senegal.
90% of all cotton worldwide is of the Gossypium hirsutum cotton species. In 2009, overall world production of cotton amounts to some 100 million bales (1 bale = 500 lbs or 226.8 kg). The biggest producers are China, India and the USA, followed by Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The combined production of all West African countries currently accounts for only 4.7 % of the world market.
The United States and Africa are the largest exporters of seed cotton. The total value of iinternational trade is some billion. Since 1980, Africa's share of the cotton trade has doubled. Neither the US nor most African countries have a significant domestic textile industry.
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