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Burkina FasoCountry profile

  • Area: 274,000 square kilometres
  • Population: 15.2 million
  • Population density: 55 per square kilometre (cf. Germany: 229 per square kilometre)
  • Official language: French
  • Independence: 1960
  • Capital: Ouagadougou
  • Form of government: Presidential Republic; constitution of 1991
  • Average life expectancy: 53 years
  • Illiteracy rate: 71.3 % (population aged over 15)
  • Top 3 exports: cotton, animals and animal feed, gold
  • Number of cotton farmers: 240,000 (status: 2009)
  • Number of “Cotton made in Africa” farmers: 15,732 (status 2010)
Burkina Faso map

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world; it ranks 177th out of 182 countries in the UN Human Development Index. The chances of improvements in people’s conditions of life are decreased by the unfavourable landlocked position of the country, its low rainfall, its lack of mineral resources and its low educational level and productivity. Cotton is both the “heart” and the hope of Burkina’s economy.

This “Land of Upright People” (the English translation of the country’s name), is located in the middle of West Africa, with borders to Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. It has a changing tropical climate with rainy seasons and dry seasons. About a quarter of the country, i.e. the desert area of the Sahel Zone, is characterised by extreme dryness. In recent years, extreme climate events such as severe dryness and floods have increased substantially. That particularly affects the poor population, 90% of whom live from subsistence farming, i.e. they cultivate the food which they need for themselves.

Africa map

      Vegetation zones of Africa with CmiA growing areas


More than half the population lives below the poverty line, i.e. they have less than 1.25 dollars per day at their disposal. The educational level is low – only 40% of children attend primary school, and 42% of them work, mostly in the fields of their family smallholding farms. The illiteracy rate is more than 70%. The whole of the country is weakened by the widespread prevalence of HIV and AIDS. The large number of infections in the productive population will continue to be an obstacle to significant development of the economy and industrialisation of the country. The national budget comprises almost exclusively development aid payments.

Cotton made in Africa images

Unlike its neighbours to the south, Burkina Faso is poor in minerals and natural resources. Well over 80% of the working population is employed in farming, contributing up to 39% of gross domestic product (GDP) and thus constituting a major element of socio-economic development in Burkina Faso. Cotton plays an overwhelmingly important role among export goods, for historical reasons. The cotton sector was well organised during the colonial period, with distribution of seed and other means of production, central organisation of ginning, and export of raw cotton. The importance of this “white gold” continued after independence from France in 1960, when the socialist economy worked with state monopoly structures and strict regulation. It was not until the early 1990s that the poor economic situation of the country led to increased pressure for opening of the cotton sector for market economy principles, privatisation and increased world market integration.

CmiA graphic
Cotton made in Africa images

Cotton remains the heart of Burkina’s economy today. 35% of GDP comes from the cotton sector, and about 18% of the people live from cotton growing. In the second half of the 1990s, cotton production in Burkina Faso experienced a tremendous boom period, with annual growth rates of more than 20%. The high foreign currency revenues from cotton exports explain the increasing value of cotton production for the economic development of Burkina Faso, and they also explain the growing dependence of economic development on a single export product and on the climate of the region.

Up-to-date information on Burkina Faso 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)



There is a current general trend in some African countries towards using transgenic cotton seeds (and Bt seeds in particular). Cotton producers expect these modified seeds to considerably improve productivity and/or pest resistance. Burkina Faso, a CmiA project country, is the second country in sub-Saharan Africa that has decided to introduce Bt cotton. This directly violates the CmiA exclusion criteria (No. 11, exclusion of GMO seeds). Cotton made in Africa’s primary goal is to improve the living conditions of as many African smallholder cotton farmers and their families, and we strive to exclude no farmer from our training and support programmes if possible. We will therefore be continuing our training programmes for smallholder farmers and our social project to promote adult literacy in Burkina Faso. The cotton produced in Burkina Faso cannot, however, continue to be sold under the CmiA seal.
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. ...