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The Development of cotton in Northern Ivory Coast, 1910–19651

  • Thomas J. Bassett (a1)


This article seeks to redress the largely contemporary bias and technologically deterministic approach of agricultural historians of cotton in francophone West Africa. It does this by arguing that the expansion of cotton since the 1960s has depended upon major socio-economic and cultural changes in agrarian production systems during the colonial period as much as on technological innovations in the post-colonial period. The study focuses on the political–economic and socio-cultural processes behind the emergence of an export-oriented, commodity producing peasantry among the Senufo of northern Ivory Coast. A periodization of cotton development is presented in which the gradual dissolution of precolonial production units and the gestation of smaller social units with new economic needs is emphasized. This restructuring of agricultural production systems is related to a complex interplay of internal and external factors, notably coercive state policies, the monetization of Senufo society and the internalization of commodity relations, conflicts between social groups and the direct intervention of foreign agribusiness in the productive process. Despite low levels of cotton output during the colonial period, the resultant transformation of production relations was crucial to the contemporary intensification of cotton growing.



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2 Contemporary accounts of cotton development in Ivory Coast, Cameroun and Togo, can be found respectively in Sawadogo, A., L'Agriculture en Côte d'Ivoire (Paris, 1977),Levrat, R., ‘La place du coton dans la vie des paysans du Nord-Cameroun’, Cahiers d'Outre-mer, XXXVII, 145 (1984), 3362 and Schwartz, A., Le paysan et la culture de coton au Togo (Paris, 1986).

3 IRCT (Institut de recherches du coton et des textiles exotiques) was founded in 1946 to conduct research and development on textile plants in France's colonies. CFDT (Compagnie française pour le développement des fibres textiles) was created in 1946 as a joint venture between the French government and private textile interests as an extension service and production company to promote the improved varieties developed by IRCT.

4 A recent version of this model of cotton development is presented in Dequecker, J., ‘Cultures industrielles et cultures vivrières en Afrique occidentale’, Afrique Contemporaine, 120 (1982), 17. For a critique of the vent-for-surplus model in relation to cotton growing in Uganda, see Tosh, J., ‘Lango agriculture during the early colonial period: Land and labour in a cash crop economy’, J. Afr. Hist. XIX, 3 (1978), 415–39.

5 For a discussion of some useful concepts to analyse the process of commoditization, see Bernstein, H., ‘African peasantries: A theoretical framework’, Journal of Peasant Studies, vI, 4, (07, 1979), 421–43.

6 In francophone Africa, CFDT is presently engaged in joint ventures with a number states including Burkina Faso (35·64 % of capital investments in Sofitex), Cameroun (30% in SODECOTON), Ivory Coast (25% in CIDT), Mali (40% in CMDT), Central African Republic (20% in Socada), Chad (17 % in Cotonchad), and Senegal (20% in Sodefitex).

7 See Lonsdale, J., ‘States and social processes in Africa’, African Studies Review, xxiv, 2–3 (1981), 139225;Kasfir, N. (ed), State and Class in Africa (London, 1984), and Skocpol, T., ‘Bringing the state back in: Strategies of analysis of current research’, in Evans, P., Rueschemeyer, D. and Skocpol, T. (eds) Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge, 1985), 337.

8 Lonsdale, ‘States’, 190.

9 A notable exception is St¨rzinger, U., ‘Tchad: “Mise en valeur” coton et developpement’, Revue Tiers Monde, xxIv, 5 (1983), 643–52.

10 Archives Nationales de la République du Sénégal (hereafter ANRS), I R 125, Service de l'Agriculture, ‘Recherches et sélection d'une variété de cotonnière adaptée aux conditions climatologiques et agrologiques locales; travaux effectués á la Ferme Cotonniére de Ferkéssédougou de 1926 á 1938’, by Lebeuf, J., 8 June 1941.

11 Ibid.

12 SEDES, , Région de Korhogo, étude de développement socio-économique, vol. 2, Rapport sociologique (Paris, 1965), 2335. In addition to the SEDES study, oral histories and responses to survey research questionnaires collected in Katiali in 1981–2 are the major sources of information on changes in Senufo social structures and farming systems. The Senufo terms employed here are from the Kiembara dialect of the Korhogo region.

13 In the Senufo six-day week, the four days reserved for segbo work were Noupka, Tori, Kali and Tiefonon. Koundiali and Kong were days set aside for kagon work and a rest day.

14 The ACC was the overseas representative of the French textile industry. Subsidized by the French government, the ACC was founded in 1904 ‘to study the conditions in which cotton could be cultivated in France's colonies’. Its activities in West Africa included distributing selected cotton seeds, constructing cotton gins, conducting field trials, irrigation missions, cotton marketing and in disseminating the ‘necessary propaganda’.

15 Archives Nationales de Ia République de Côte d'Ivoire (hereafter ANRCI), MiFm 5 G 67, Letter of Lt Gov. Angoulvant on the political, economic and administrative situation of Côte d'Ivoire, 26 November 1904.

16 ANRCI, I RR 63, letter of Lt Gov. of C.I. to Commandants de Cercle, 31 January 1918.

17 Journal officiel de Ia Côte d'Ivoire, 15 January 1905.

18 Archives Nationales de la République du Mali (hereafter ANRM), I E 83, ‘Rapport politique et rapport de tournée, Côte d'Ivoire, 1901–1903’.

19 Lonsdale, ‘States’, 191.

20 Bassett, T., ‘Food, peasantry and the state in the northern Ivory Coast, 1898–1982’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1984), 4851.

21 ANRCI, I RR 86, ‘Rapport étudiant les conséquences de la mévente du caoutchouc sur la situation économique, sur les transactions commerciales, sur les facultés contributives des indigènes’, 23 January 1924.

22 Chartier, J., ‘Le cercle de Kong’, Renseigneinents Coloniaux, xxv, 1 (1915), 1926.

23 The major cotton pests in the Ivorian savanna are bollworms and jassids. See IRCT, La culture cotonni`re dans le nord de Ia Côte d'Ivoire (Bouaké, 1976), 1016.

24 ANRCI, I QQ 81, ‘Bulletin agricole et commerciale, October 2908’.

25 ANRCI, I QQ 81, Cercle de Korhogo, ‘Rapport économique et agricole d'ensemble’, December 2912.

26 ANRCI I QQ 81, Cercle de Korhogo, ‘Rapport densemble’, 1913;Cercle de Kong, Poste de Korhogo, ‘Note succincte sur Ia situation agricole’, 6 December 1916.

27 ANRS, I R 48, Vers. 158, letter of Gov. Gen. Angoulvant to Lt Gov. of Côte d'Ivoire, 5 September 1918.

28 ANRCI, I RR 63, ‘Rapport de tournée par Leraide, L., chef du Service de l'Agriculture, 15 March 1915’,

29 ANRS, I R 48, Angoulvant letter.

30 Ibid.

31 ANRM, I R 123, ‘Note sur Ia culture de coton en Côte d'Ivoire’, 1918.

32 World cotton production and marketing patterns underwent major changes in the post-first world war period. Cotton pests reduced American cotton yields to pre-war levels and the booming American textile industry was consuming 70 per cent of the country's cotton in comparison to 30 per cent before the war. By 1923 the drop in U.S. cotton exports led to a tripling of world cotton prices. That same year, one-third of France's two billion franc balance of payments’ deficit was for cotton imports alone. For an overview of the influence of American cotton exports on French colonial cotton schemes in West Africa prior to 1910, see Anjorin, A. O., ‘European attempts to develop cotton cultivation in West Africa, 1850–1910’, Odu: University of Ife Journal of African Studies, III, 1 (1966), 315.

33 ANRM, 1 R 123, ‘Note sur la culture de coton’.

34 ANRCI, D 3333, ‘Rapport d'inspection administrative du poste de Korhogo’, 29 April 1931.

35 The interpretation of ‘regional fair’ is given in Roberts, R., ‘French colonialism, imported technology and the handicraft industry in the Western Sudan, 1898–1918’, Journal of Economic History, XLVIII, 2 (1987), 461–72.

36 ANRCI, D 2990, Inspection des Affaires Administratives, ‘Rapport á Mon. le Gov. de la C.I., a/s des usages commerciaux particuliers au Cercle de Korhogo et diflicultés qui sont produits entre les maisons de commerces et l'Administrateur Lalande, M.’, 26 January 1931.

37 Not all production units nor members within them were equally burdened by forced labour. Large units that included slave descendants who still felt compelled to work for ‘household’ heads or quarter chiefs, experienced fewer labour-shortage problems than smaller, non-slave-holding social units. Prior to the end of forced labour in 1946, slaves reportedly worked diligently to avoid being sent to the forest region year after year. It was common, according to informants, that industrious slaves remained in the village while their lazier counterparts were sent south to fulfill the household's quota. A Dyula man interviewed in 1982 reported that he never went to the Basse Côte because he was the only free person in his parents’ household. In his place, two male slave descendants went at least seven times to work as forced labourers (interview with Koné, Gaossou, 16 April 1982, Katiali).

38 SEDES, vol. 2.

39 Ibid. 26.

40 ANRS, 2 G 30–9, Côte d'Ivoire, ‘Rapport politique annuel’, 1930.

41 ANRCI, 3323, ‘Rapports politiques trimestriels des cercles, 1931–1932’.

42 ANRCI, 840, ‘Rapport de l'ingénieur des étages sur son tournée effectuée dans la réion septentrionale de la Côte d'lvoire’, 28 October 1935.

43 ANRS, I R 108, ‘Programme de développement de Ia culture cotonnière en A.O.F’, 20 August 1938.

44 Aubertin, C., Histoire et création d'une Region “Sous-Developpée” (le Nord Ivoirien) (Abidjan, 1980), 27.

45 Ibid. 29.

46 Amin, S., Le Développement du capitalisme en Côte d'Ivoire (Paris, 1967), 99103.

47 Aubertin notes that three-quarters of the agricultural credit extended in 1966 went to southern planters. The north received a mere 3 per cent of the total. Aubertin, Histoire, 50.

48 ANRS, I R 187, letter from the Lt Gov. of C.I. to the esident of the Territorial Assembly on the subject of the Agricultural Service's annual programme, 11 December 1956.

49 Amin, S.Développement du capitalisme, 52, 96–7.

50 Ibid. 97.

51 SEDES, vol. 2, 26.

52 ANRS, I R 208, Ver. 158, Insp. Gén, de l'Agric., ‘Note sur la production cotonnière en A.O.F.’, January 1952.

53 Angelini, A. and Bouchy, C., ‘La culture cotonnière en Côte d'Ivoire (cours de formation des agents d'encadrement pour l'opération Allen)’ (Bouaké, 1952).

54 The cost of pesticides was recuperated by CFDT when setting producer prices. This price reflected CFDT's deductions for inputs, ginning, transportation, stocking and marketing expenses.

55 Interview with Soro, Zié, 12 November,1986 Katiali.

56 Interviews with Bêh Tuo and Silué, Katiennen'golo, 19 July 1986, Katiali.

57 SEDES, Région de Korhogo, vol. 5, Etudes des budgets farniliaux, pp. 24–35.

58 There are no data on the number of cotton growers before this date.

59 Campbell, B., ‘Inside the miracle: Cotton production in the Ivory Coast’, in Barker, J., The Politics of Agriculture in Tropical Africa (Beverley Hills, CA, 1984), 158–60.

1 I would like to thank the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies for their support in funding my field research in Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal. I also thank Marie-Hálène Collion, Donald Crummey, Richard Roberts and Michael Watts for commenting on earlier drafts of this article.

The Development of cotton in Northern Ivory Coast, 1910–19651

  • Thomas J. Bassett (a1)


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