SOAS University of London

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Cotton: The Organisation and Performance of Africa Cotton Systems

Staff member(s)


Periodic work that started with research on the Ghana cotton sector in 1996. A DFID (ESCOR) project from 2001-05 compared the organisation and performance of cotton industries in four eastern and southern African countries (Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). This was followed in 2006-09 by work funded through the World Bank that widened the scope to nine countries (adding Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Uganda) and deepened the analysis. More recently Colin has had a small input into the Tanzania Cotton and Textile Development Programme, funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.


many, but the central collaboration has been with David Tschirley (Michigan State University)

Objectives and scope

So-called liberalisation within African cotton industries has resulted in a wide variety of industrial structures, which in turn have been associated with wide variations in sector performance. This research has explored the linkages between organisation and performance in these sectors. As cotton tends to be an input-intensive crop and African smallholders can rarely afford large quantities of purchased inputs on a cash basis, interlocking between input and output markets (for example, through contract farming relationships) has been critical to sector growth. Intense competition for seed cotton at harvest time tends to undermine such interlocking relationships, leading to a trade-off between competition and coordination within African cotton sectors.


Poulton, C. (1998). Cotton Production and Marketing in Northern Ghana: The Dynamics of Competition in a System of Interlocking Transactions. In A. Dorward, J. Kydd and C. Poulton (ed)  Smallholder Cash Crop Production Under Market Liberalisation: A New Institutional Economics Perspective. Wallingford, CAB International: 56-112.

Poulton, C., P. Gibbon, B. Hanyani-Mlambo, J. Kydd, W. Maro, M. Nylandsted Larsen, A. Osorio, D. Tschirley and B. Zulu (2004). "Competition and Coordination in Liberalized African Cotton Market Systems." World Development 32(3): 519-536.

Poulton, C. and B. Hanyani-Mlambo (2009). The Cotton Sector of Zimbabwe. Africa Region Working Paper Series No. 122, World Bank, Washington DC.

Poulton, C. and W. Maro (2009). The Cotton Sector of Tanzania. Africa Region Working Paper Series No. 127, World Bank, Washington DC.

Tschirley, D., C. Poulton and D. Boughton (2008). The Many Paths of Cotton Sector Reform in East and Southern Africa: Lessons from a Decade of Experience. In W. Moseley and L. Gray (ed)  Hanging by a Thread: Cotton, Globalization and Poverty in Africa. Uppsala, Nordic Africa Institute / Ohio University Press: 123-158.

Tschirley, D., C. Poulton and P. Labaste, Eds. (2009). Organization and Performance of Cotton Sectors in Africa:  Learning from Reform Experience. Agriculture and Rural Development series. Washington DC, World Bank. Downloadable from

Tschirley, D., C. Poulton, N. Gergely, P. Labaste, J. Baffes, D. Boughton and G. Estur (2010). "Institutional Diversity and Performance in African Cotton Sectors." Development Policy Review 28(3): 295-323