This article examines how and why smallholder peasants mobilize for collective action to put forward their claims. Taking the resistance by cotton farmers in Burkina Faso as a case study, it demonstrates that institutions of neoliberal governance – which are presented by their proponents as making governance more “effective” by improving the participation of various public and private stakeholders in different degrees – nevertheless fail to represent the interests of the large population of agrarian poor. In the 2010s, the cotton sector in Burkina Faso became a field of contention, with smallholder cotton producers mobilizing on a massive scale to take collective action. It is argued that the mobilization of cotton farmers can be explained through the effects of the sector's liberalization. Economic liberalization, which has been promoted by the World Bank since the mid-1990s, has changed the institutional setting of the sector and has significantly impacted the ways and means of collective claim-making available to farmers. Building on primary data (qualitative interviews, focus group discussions, observations) collected during several months of field research between 2018 and 2020, and analyses of press reports and a variety of documents, recent protests by cotton farmers are examined and related to these liberalization policies.