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Benin: Benin Agriculture Profile


The economy of Benin remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture and cotton. Cotton accounts for 40% of GDP and roughly 80% of official export receipts. There is as well production of textiles, palm products, and cocoa beans. Maize (corn), beans, rice, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, cassava, yams, and other various tubers are grown for local subsistence.

Benin began producing a modest quantity of offshore oil in October 1982. Production ceased in recent years but exploration of new sites is ongoing. A modest fishing fleet provides fish and shrimp for local subsistence and export to Europe. Formerly government-owned commercial activities are presently privatized. A French brewer acquired the former national-run brewery. Smaller businesses are privately owned by Beninese citizens, but some firms are foreign owned, primarily French and Lebanese. The private commercial and agricultural sectors remain the principal contributors to increase.

Cotton is the only cash crop available to smallscale farmers, making up 40 % of the country's GDP and over 80 % of export revenues. A consequence is that the country's fertile land has suffered environmental degradation as a result of the emphasis on production of cotton for the export market, and because 90 % of all pesticides are used on cotton. Heavy use of agrochemicals has prompted widespread concern about the sustainability of the industry; this was particularly so between 1999 and 2000 following reintroduction of the pesticide endosulfan, related to the banned DDT, which led to a lot of farmer deaths.

The damage to both human health and the environment has prompted the widespread introduction of organic farming methods. Organic farming has almost doubled since 2003. Organisations such as the Pesticide Action Network, based in the UK, together with local partner OBEPAB, (Organisation Beninoise pour la Promotion de l'Agriculture Biologique), have trained local farmers - particularly women - in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and organic cotton farming through Farmer Field Schools. IPM measures aimed at reducing chemical pesticide use to a minimum include improving soil fertility, recognising disease and encouraging natural enemies.

Benin's export market has expanded to include other agricultural products. The production of shea nut butter, though additional popular in Ghana, is an activity presently strongly associated with women and reported to be, at times, a additional significant source of gain than cotton. Shea nuts are a staple in the local diet and their increasing use in the lucrative cosmetics industry is promoting interest in its export price. However, the process of making shea butter is laborious and in some seasons may be unprofitable.

Since the mid-1980s Benin has increased production of yams, cassava, maize, peanuts and pulses to achieve food security. Rice production, in particular upland varieties grown on dry land, has been boosted by the introduction of NERICA varieties by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA). The new varieties combine the hardiness of indigenous rice with the high yielding characteristics of Asian varieties, and they are said to produce 50 % additional yield than local varieties without fertiliser use, and up to 200 % additional with fertiliser application.

Although palm oil was a major cash crop in Benin during the 1980s, its cultivation was marginalised by the popularity of cotton. But presently, following the booming interest in biofuels, palm oil production is increasing - which caused some controversy. The World Rainforest Movement has reported the allocation of 300,000-400,000 ha of land for palm oil production in humid southern Benin which, despite constituting only ten % of national territory, is home to 50 % of the country's people. It says that such a policy will promote the cultivation of palm oil for biofuel production on prime agricultural land and lead to competition with food crops.
Rich pickings

Over half of Benin's forest areas have been cleared or lost to bush fires. Of the forests that remain, mahogany, iroko, teak, samba and other tropical hardwoods are used to make furniture and gifts for the tourist trade. Off-shore oil reserves discovered in the 1960s have been largely exploited and imports presently far exceed exports. Other natural resources include marble and limestone, together with small deposits of gold, but the mineral industry makes up a small component of the country's GDP, mostly due to undeveloped infrastructure.

This lack of infrastructure and investment means that despite large reserves of natural resources and a historic and thriving cotton industry, Benin has been unable to realise its economic potential. Only slowly are food processing, shrimp and deep-sea fishing developing as the private sector takes chance of a new policy introduced by the government in 2001 to encourage investment . Only time will tell whether this kind of investment can lift one of the world's poorest, from presently on resource-rich nations in the world, out of poverty.

Overall prospects favourable for 2016 food crops production

Harvesting of coarse grains is underway in the northern part of the country, which has only one rainy season. In the South, harvesting of the 2016 second season maize crop is about to start. Overall, harvest prospects are good following well-distributed rains in time and space during planting and subsequent favourable precipitation in most parts of the country. An above-average 2016 production of cereal and roots and tubers is forecast.

Last year, cereal production declined by about 5 percent over the previous year’s harvest to 1.6 million tonnes. This level of production was about 6 percent above the average of the previous five years. Production of maize, the main staple cereal, was estimated at about 1.29 million tonnes, 5 percent below the 2014 production.

Maize prices on the decline, reflecting increased supplies

Harvesting of the 2016 first season crops has put significant downward pressure on prices in most monitored markets. For example, prices of maize, the main staple food, dropped by 50 percent between June and August in Cotonou and Abomey markets.

About 77 000 people, located mostly in the northern part of the country, were estimated to be in Phase 3: “Crisis” and above between June and August, compared to 51 000 in 2015, according to the last “Cadre Harmonisé” analysis conducted in the country. The significant increase in the number of food insecure people was driven mostly by the impact of last year’s dry spells on crop production in the north.