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Cotton sector reform in Mali: explaining the puzzles*

  • Renata Serra (a1)

This paper provides a detailed analysis of the cotton sector reform process in Mali from 2000 to 2011, explaining reform delays and ambiguities in terms of the wider political and socio-economic context and aid relationships. Contrary to arguments pointing to lack of state commitment and ownership, domestic stakeholders increasingly worked towards finding an acceptable and consensual reform package. The process encountered quite serious obstacles, however, due to divergent actors' incentives, and the existence of opposing philosophies about what a restructured cotton sector should look like. As a consequence of donors' misjudgement of the political and social realities underlying the Malian cotton sector, dialogue among stakeholders was difficult and polarised, forcing the government to spend considerable time and resources to find a suitable compromise. This paper contributes to a better understanding of the merits and limits of pursuing consensual policy processes against the constraints posed by divergent donors' policy paradigms.

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The research was funded by UK DFID and Irish Aid under the Africa Power and Politics Programme, and benefited from the excellent guidance of David Booth. I am deeply grateful to Bouréma Kone (IER, Bamako), Mahamadou Moro and Moussa Coulibaly, for their invaluable help during fieldwork and for conducting interviews in Malian cotton villages; and to Veronique Theriault for her research assistance. Many thanks to Isaline Bergamaschi, David Booth, Richard Crook, Jonathan Glennie, Jonathan Kaminski, Mette Kjaer and Marit Østebø for their useful suggestions on previous drafts of this paper. I am truly indebted to the many actors encountered in Mali, from policy-makers to farmers, who opened my eyes to the complexities of the cotton world. The usual disclaimers apply.

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