Of the total land area of more than 322,000 square kilometers, 52 percent was considered agricultural land, or slightly over 3.6 hectares per capita. Total land area fell into one of two distinct agricultural regions: the forest region (about 140,000 square kilometers) in the south and the drier savanna region (about 180,000 square kilometers) in the north, where economic growth has generally been slower. The forest region, which had higher and more reliable rainfall and better soils, produced most export crops. Rainfall in the savanna averaged about two-thirds of that in the forest region and was unreliable from year to year. In addition, the soils were generally light and ranged from medium to poor quality. As a result, agricultural yields were low and opportunities for using labor-saving technology were limited.
The prevailing system of cultivation for both cereals and féculents (starchy foods) was known as shifting agriculture, or bush fallow. Fields were cultivated for three to four years, after which they were left fallow for periods of up to ten years to restore their fertility. To maximize their return on a given plot, farmers first cultivated a more exigent crop like yams, followed it in subsequent years with less demanding crops like corn, and finally planted cassava, after which the plot was left untilled. In Côte d'Ivoire, as elsewhere in Africa, population pressures forced farmers to reduce the fallow period, leading to diminished soil fertility and productivity. The use of chemical fertilizers was not common; annual consumption of fertilizers in 1982 was 51,800 tons, or only 8.5 kilograms per hectare.
As in most of sub-Saharan Africa, farm labor was usually manual, without the aid of animals or mechanization. In 1982 there were 3,200 tractors and 40 harvester-threshers in the country, nearly all of which were on large private or government-owned plantations. Nearly all agriculture relied on natural rainfall or, in the case of paddy rice, rudimentary, gravity-fed irrigation systems. Under the 1976-78 development plan, the government constructed dams on the Bandama River at Taabo and on the Sassandra River at Buyo for irrigation.
Land tenure systems differed among the various ethnic groups; nevertheless, most systems were based on the concept of communal ownership of land. At the same time, individual families were granted rights to cultivate a specific area (which included fallow areas), and these rights included some form of inheritance within the family. Unused lands reverted to the community. In 1902 the French introduced the concept that individuals or corporations could hold legal title to land with exclusive rights; this law, however, had little impact in the rural areas. After independence, Ivoirian law on landownership provided for surveys and registration of land, which then became the irrevocable property of the owner and his or her successors.
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