The US on Thursday pledged $7 million to support cotton farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal as part of its new 'West Africa Cotton Improvement Programme.'

The programme is based on an analysis of the sector carried out earlier this year by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It aims to tackle issues such as soil degradation, agricultural practices, training for ginners, quality improvements, research and policy, and institutional reform in the region.

Of the $7 million that has been pledged, $5 million is fresh funding.

US trade representative Rob Portman said: "The West Africa Cotton Improvement Program is one more way the United States is specifically addressing the needs of cotton dependent countries in Africa."

The National Cotton Council (NCC) is also getting involved by providing assistance in West Africa during the cotton harvest on recommended measures to control insects and the application of biotechnology.

The US Agency for International Development will hold a conference in the region soon after next month's WTO meeting in Hong Kong to finalise the cotton improvement programme.

The latest round of World Trade Organisation talks are expected to be dominated by calls for radical reductions in price and income support for farmers in rich countries.