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BeninCountry profile

    • Area: 112,622 square kilometres
    • Population: about 8.7 million
    • Population density: 77 per square kilometre (cf. Germany: 229 per square kilometre)
    • Official language: French
    • Independence: 1960
    • Capital: Porto Novo
    • Form of government: Presidential republic; constitution of 1990
    • Average life expectancy: 61 years
    • Illiteracy rate: 59.5 % (population over the age of 15)
    • Top 3 exports: raw cotton (70-80%), groundnuts, palm oil
    • Number of cotton growers: 237,500 (status 2010)
    • Number of “Cotton made in Africa” farmers: 20,016 (status 2010)
    Benin map

    Cotonou, the largest city of Benin is located on the coast. It is the economic centre of the country, with a thriving trade in second-hand cars. But the impression of flourishing commercial activity in this vibrant city does not show the whole truth – neither is it representative for Benin – Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about one third of its population living in extreme poverty. Agriculture is an important economic factor, built mainly on cotton.

    Benin is located in West Africa. It is a small country bordering on Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, and in the south the sea – the Gulf of Guinea. The climate is geographically divided into two zones, with semiarid, dry southern Sahel climate in the north and humid tropical climate in the south.

    Like the other countries where Cotton made in Africa is active, Benin is among the poorest regions on Earth. About 30% of its population live in extreme poverty; child mortality is still extremely high, with about 120 out of 1,000 children dies before the age of five years. The country is heavily indebted, and suffers from poor economic infrastructure. Combating poverty and promoting economic development are therefore at the focus of government policy.

    Africa map

          Vegetation zones of Africa with CmiA growing areas

    CmiA graphic

    Gross domestic product (GDP) of Benin - composition by sector

    Benin’s economy is characterised by agriculture, which accounts for about one third of its gross domestic product (GDP), and trade with the neighbouring states. The city of Cotonou for example has developed into West Africa’s largest second-hand car market in recent years. The vehicles mostly come from Europe and are sold on to Nigeria. Industry, with its main sectors cement and cotton ginning, only accounts for about 14% of GDP, while services account for 50%. The government mainly focuses on the service sector for economic development of Benin. The greatest obstacle is the excessive level of foreign debt, preventing Benin from participating in major international development programmes that require the country to make a contribution of its own. This is a burden on all inhabitants of this multi-ethnic state, which comprises 42 ethnic groups with 60 different languages. But political developments could give opportunities here. The present government is trying to advance education, and to increase literacy from its current level of about 40% among the population aged over 15. Its goal is to get 100% of children into school by 2015.


    Benin is located in the “Dahomey Gap”, an unforested corridor stretching from the Upper Guinean rain forests on the West Coast of the African continent to the Congolese rainforests in Central Africa. This savanna landscape is hardly suitable for agricultural use, due to its dryness. To the north of the lagoon landscape of the coast, the country rises to a plateau which is intensively used for agriculture, extending as far as the Atakora mountains. The rhythm of working the soil and planting crops is dependent on the rainy season, which is why planting is in the months from May to June, and harvesting is between October and December.

    Cotton made in Africa images

    About two thirds of the population of Benin work in farming. They mainly grow maize, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes and pulses for their own needs and the local market. Cashew nuts and pineapples are important export products, but the main export from Benin is cotton. Dependence on agriculture and especially on cotton export, which accounts for up to 40% of export revenues, makes Benin sensitive to impacts of the regional climate, and also of global market prices.

    The export-oriented cotton sector developed strongly in Benin during the French colonial period, as it did in other countries of West Africa. After independence, the cotton sector remained under strict control of the government. It regulated all central areas such as import and distribution of seed and other means of production, the granting of credits and services to producers, ginning and export of the raw cotton. Since 1992, Benin’s cotton sector has increasingly been privatised.

    Current information on
    Benin is available at the website of the German Federal Foreign Office.

    Sources: Human Development Report 2009 (UN); Foreign Office; World Development Indicators 2009; Fischer Weltalmanach (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung/Federal Political Education Centre)



    The verification of CmiA cotton from Benin will be suspended with immediate effect due to the changes to the framework conditions for the cotton sector enacted by the Benin government. The Foundation has decided to take this step because the changes effected mean that compliance with and traceability of the CmiA sustainability criteria is no longer assured. The Aid by Trade Foundation will not, however, withdraw from the country; CmiA will continue to support cotton farmers and their families in improving their living conditions. The training of currently over 22,000 CmiA farmers will continue as will the social project to improve the education infrastructure in six communities in the country. 
    Teaser Milestones

    Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in AfricaThe exhibition and the project behind it

    This exceptional collaboration with fashion and commercial photographer Albert Watson will provide insight into the cotton farmers' worlds and transport a better awareness of CmiA's work.

    The photos will illustrate the initiative's goal to improve social conditions in the smallholder farmers’ lives without visual stereotypes. The aim is in contrast to show a new image of African living environments – through the eyes of Albert Watson. In addition to the cotton harvest, that was underway during the journey, Watson has also visited traditional markets and a regional king in Benin to get an impression of the diversity of life in Benin and its people.

    African cottonIn demand worldwide

    African cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, using sustainable growing methods with harmony between agriculture, the natural environment and human beings. About 8% of the cotton traded in the world market is harvested in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Africa cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholder farmers, and there are only very few large plantations. ...