BAMAKO (Reuters) — Mali plans to produce 800,000 tonnes of unginned cotton per year by 2018 after output surged by more than a quarter in the 2014/15 season on the back of improved farm inputs, the head of the state-owned textile development firm CMDT said on Thursday.

Kalfa Sanogo said final production figures for the season stood at 552,000 tonnes, compared with 440,000 tonnes the previous season.

“The government increased input subsidies and lowered the price of fertilizers. This significant grant from the state gave a lot of momentum to cotton production,” Sanogo told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday in Bamako.

Mali, Africa’s third biggest gold producer behind South Africa and Ghana, also counts cotton as one of its main exports.

Sanogo said the West African nation was expecting to produce 650,000 tonnes in the 2015-2016 season, 725,000 tonnes in 2016-2017, and 800,000 tonnes in 2017-2018, according to CMDT’s five-year development plan.

He said Mali plans to invest between 60 to 70 billion CFA francs ($122 million) per year to achieve its targets.

“Keeping the target means continuing measures that helped to attain the 25 percent jump in output this year,” he said.

The measures include lower farm input prices, improving soil fertility, motivating farmers with favourable farmgate prices and immediate cash payments after harvest, Sanogo said.

Some 3.5 million farmers out of Mali’s over 15 million people grow cotton, according to the CMDT.

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