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Global cotton and local environmental management: the political ecology of rich and poor small-hold farmers in southern Mali

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This study examines the hypothesis that poor households engage in less sustainable soil management practices than rich households in a similar socioeconomic environment. This broad objective is explored in Mali's southern cotton belt through three specific research questions. First, is there empirical evidence to support the claim that poor households engage in less sustainable soil management practices than rich households? Second, what local and extra-local factors influence household agricultural management approaches in southern Mali? Third, what broader scale political and economic processes are linked to the factors that influence local-level agricultural management approaches? The author reports that soil quality measures on the farms of rich and poor households are not significantly different, refuting the conventional wisdom that the wealthy are better managers of the environment. A variety of environmentally deleterious practices are associated with export-oriented cotton production, an activity more vigorously pursued by wealthy than poor farmers. Finally, the focus on poverty in international environment and development discourse has allowed the government of Mali to avoid a serious debate on the sustainability of cotton production. The study's findings are based on household interviews describing agricultural management practices, an analysis of farm field soil measures, and discussions with donors and national policymakers.
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Keywords: Mali; West Africa; cotton; political ecology; poverty; soil degradation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St Paul, MN 55105-1899, USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 March 2005

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