Benin is a small country in West Africa bordering Nigeria, Niger, Togo and Burkina Faso, with strong democratic institutions but also widespread poverty and malnutrition. Almost half of the 10 million people live below the poverty line and 21% of children under five are underweight. The economy is not diversified, quite dependant on Nigeria and vulnerable to external shocks such as climate hazards and cotton price volatility.
Indeed, agriculture accounts for about 32% of GDP and is the source of livelihood for nearly 70% of the country's workforce. Cotton, almost the only cash crop, is the primary export commodity accounting for about 25-40% of total official exports. Heavy use of pesticides has had a health impact on farmers and unsustainable monocropping has led to land degradation.
Agriculture in Benin is very diverse, as the climate becomes drier from the Southern tropical rainforest zone to the Northern savannah-desert regions. Half the population lives in humid South Benin which represents only 10% of the territory. In Northern Benin, on the boundary of the Sudanian and Sahelian Zone, where the dry season lasts more than six months, the agriculture sector is dominated by cotton and livestock. The most important food crops in this region are yam, cassava, maize, sorghum, millet and beans.
Improving agricultural productivity of smallholder farms is key to Benin's development (ref: Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (2011-2015). Benin could take greater advantage of its geographic position in serving the booming Nigerian market and its role as a gateway to landlocked countries to its north.