What the French Did

If the colonial officials selected the large farm strategy, it would necessitate attracting French businesses to invest in the creation of large farms. In addition, Malian farmers would be forced to sell their land whether they wanted to or not. Finally, such a strategy would lead to a demand for large numbers of farm workers. The colonial government would have to become involved in recruiting workers from a population that most likely would resist losing access to their land and becoming hired farm workers.

Given these considerations, the French colonial officials decided to promote cotton through the expansion of small-scale production of the crop. However, there were problems with this decision. The colonial officials had to persuade, often using un-democratic means, small-scale farmers to begin cultivating cotton or to expand cotton production. If they increased their cotton production, Malian farmers would have to reduce production of food-rice, millet, sorghum. The international cotton market in the first half of the 20th century was very volatile. Malian farmers often made little or no profit on their cotton crops. Moreover, as a cash crop, peanuts brought in a higher rate of return than cotton. Consequently, Malian farmers tried to resist colonial government attempts to force cotton production. However in the 1930s, the colonial regime set up the Office du Niger, which instituted a system of forced labor and taxation that obliged Malian farmers to participate in the production of cotton for export.

As the result of French colonial policy in the Soudan, cotton dominated Mali economy by the time it became independent in 1960. While Mali could take pride in the fact that it was the second largest producer of cotton in Africa, revenues from cotton were not sufficient to support the social and economic expectations of a newly independent nation. Moreover, the colonial government did little to promote economic diversity; consequently, cotton was and continued to be king of the Malian economy. No economic system can grow and develop if it is dependent on a single product that in turn is subject to continued price changes in the global market.