A political ecology of socio-economic differentiation: debt, inputs and liberalization reforms in southwestern Burkina Faso

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Taylor & Francis


This paper builds on work from the agrarian change and political ecology literatures to analyze the process of agrarian change among smallholder cotton farmers in southwestern Burkina Faso. Specifically, we use a rural survey of 72 heads of household in three villages to examine whether and how (1) access to agricultural inputs, (2) debt and (3) liberalization reforms combine to produce rural socio-economic differentiation based on wealth. We find that wealthier farmers use more mineral fertilizer and manure inputs than their poorer counterparts. Wealthier farmers are also better able to remain debt-free as cotton prices drop and input prices rise. Moreover, they are able to take advantage of the neo-liberal restructuring of cotton cooperatives to change polices on debt repayment and input provisioning to their favor. This growing divide has large implications for rural food security, particularly as land becomes scarcer, fallows disappear and the need to intensify production grows. This research addresses two gaps in the agrarian change literature in relating how liberalization reforms and biophysical elements drive rural socio-economic differentiation. This work also shows that merging the concerns of political ecology with the agrarian change literature allows for a deeper examination of rural socio-economic differentiation.