The economics of conventional and organic cotton production in Benin

The assessment was undertaken in the municipality of Banikoara - known as the capital of 'White Gold' - under the Economics of Land Degradation Initiaitive and in collaboration with GIZ Benin and the Ministry of Agriculture in Benin.


In Benin, cotton is very important to the national economy, providing a source of income to half of its population 8 million citizens. Lack of diversification in the agricultural sector however, has made farmers, businesses and the Benin’s trade balance vulnerable to external shocks, such as climate hazards and global trade policies. Additionally, in Benin 90% of all imported pesticides are used on cotton and there are frequent reports of pesticide poisoning, skin, eyes or stomach irritation, and other health problems amongst farmers. Indirect consequences of single-handed government support for the cotton sector include the clearance of forests and pastoral lands, which has marginalized nomadic pastoralists that also suffer from the poisoning and death of their livestock.


In the context of these challenges, there is a clear scope for questioning the support of cotton production following “business as usual”. For this purpose, Altus Impact undertook a detailed assessment of health and environmental damage costs to households, as well as the costs to the public treasure of supporting cotton production. We also compared the economics of conventional and organic cotton production, through face-to-face interviews with more than 200 conventional and 100 organic cotton producers in the Northern municipality of Banikoara, known as the capital of the White Gold.

Our analysis showed that the annual environmental and health related costs are in the order of EUR 175 (Franc CFA 114’200) per average household, reducing their yearly income from cotton production by 23%.  With an estimated 16,600 cotton producing households, the global damage cost for the municipalitiy of Banikoara amounts to EUR 2.9 million per annum.

When accounting for government subsidies for inputs and environmental damage costs, the net value of cotton production is further reduced by 66 % for an average sized farm. At the same time, our analysis showed there is a strong case for adopting Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices such as crop rotation and permanent soil cover, as these can help reduce farmer’s reliance on costly inorganic and chemical production inputs and build climate resilience.  Unfortunately, insufficient access to finance, farm inputs and extension services for organic cotton producers are hindering the adopting of Sustainable Land Management efforts.


The results of the study have been presented by Vanja Westerberg at the Global Soil Week in Berlin 2017, at Nestle’s Planting Seeds for the future of food conference, and at high-level policy forums in Benin by the former Minister for Environment and UNCCD Secretary, Luc Gnacadja. The study is used to show that it pays to invest in SLM and the private sector has to be involved as a key stakeholder and serve as a base for the drafting of a national action plan on SLM. 

For more detail, please download

The international briefing paper (EN): The economics of conventional and organic cotton production in Benin.

The main report (FR): Le coton est-il vraiment l'or blanc à Banikoara?

A presentation of the key results (EN/ FR)

Women working in fields in Ghana
Women working in fields in Ghana

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