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Boosting Cotton Productivity and Livelihoods in Côte d’Ivoire

Against a backdrop of civil unrest and low productivity, Olam’s integrated cotton ginning model galvanised Côte d’Ivoire’s cotton farmers and addressed agricultural, financial and social issues to revive cotton production and smallholders’ livelihoods. 


Olam began cotton operations in Côte d’Ivoire in 2008 following the acquisition of the Ouangolo ginnery. National cotton production volumes had dropped during the civil war and Africa lagged behind other cotton growing regions due to a combination of outdated seed varieties, low quality inputs and poor farming skills.

Olam recognised that improving the productivity and traceability of Côte d’Ivoire’s cotton market would stimulate commercial growth and increase farmers’ incomes. Achieving this would rely on integrating Olam’s ginning operations into cotton farming activities in surrounding communities and thereby managing the entire supply chain from seed distribution to collection of seed cotton.


After conducting a needs analysis that ranged from finance, technical skills and agri-inputs to healthcare and education, a strategy was developed to address all touch-points in farming communities that affected productivity. A network of Olam’s extension workers, who were familiar with the local communities and trained in cotton farming and credit management, worked alongside these groups to deliver this. Farmer co-operatives were also integral to the programme’s implementation due to their ability to reinforce training and act as a collective channel for the distribution and management of resources and credit.

The strategy took a three-pronged approach:
Motivation and mutual buy-in

  • Reaching out to farming communities through meetings with village elders and co-operatives, plus word of mouth recommendations from Olam’s employees, explained the opportunities of the approach – that as a guaranteed buyer of the cotton at competitive prices, the gin offers farmers a ready market for their produce as well as providing local employment opportunities to staff the gin.

Skills development

  • Training in Good Agricultural Practices was delivered by the extension services team to help farmers minimise crop risks arising from pest infestations or poor weather conditions. The team, which grew from 35 to 125 people over five years, kept an ongoing record of each farmer’s operations such as land area, yields and loan repayments. This helped Olam and the farmers to track progress and mutually manage financial risks.
  • Fifteen functional literacy centres were established to improve proficiency among farmers and their children. This included training teachers and providing materials.
  • ‘Farmer Business Schools’ delivered by Olam’s field staff, which are part of the CompACI project and promoted by GIZ, provided farmers with training in basic business skills.
  • An HIV/AIDS awareness programme was also implemented and strengthened by a ‘health caravan’ which was launched in partnership with the Korhogo-based NGO, Ideal, to bring HIV awareness and medical support for illnesses such as malaria and typhoid to villages.

Improving access to resources

  • Olam distributed better varieties of seeds and financed fertilisers and pesticides through the co-operatives during the cotton growing cycle. Additional inputs were also offered for farmers to grow maize for household consumption and to help diversify their incomes.
  • A range of finance options were provided including 0% microfinance plus financing for cattle and ploughs. Over 5,000 cattle vaccinations each year were organised through the programme.
  • Olam graded over 600km of rural roads in the cotton growing zones and continues to improve feeder roads each year.
  • Around 12 post-harvest storage facilities have been constructed.


In five years, Olam had quintupled its smallholder network from 3,000 to 16,000 farmers. By the season 2011/2012 yields had nearly doubled to 1,126kg/ha from 626kg per hectare in its first season. Farmer annual revenues had also risen from US$200 to US$1,200 per family of which US$300 was a direct result of yield improvements and input cost efficiencies. Whilst securing a reliable, increased supply of quality cotton for the gin, the programme has shown that taking a holistic approach to sustainably producing cotton can reap rewards for Olam and the communities that it works with.

Please click here to view our Cotton Sustainability page.