Côte d’Ivoire

An image of the country's flag.

Côte d’Ivoire is a coastal country adjacent to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Much of Côte d’Ivoire’s 318,000 square kilometers of surface area consists of relatively flat plains beginning in the south that stretch to a large plateau that dominates the north. Tropical forests once covered most of the southern half of the country, most of which has been converted to farmland. Nearly 65 percent of land in Côte d’Ivoire is used for agriculture. Food crops (maize, rice, yams, groundnuts) and cotton are the main crops of the savannah region in the north, while coffee and cocoa are dominant in the south and west.

The 2014 population was estimated to be 22,157,107; growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent. Total population is composed of over 60 ethnic and cultural groups. The country has been urbanizing rapidly in recent years, with the current population nearly evenly divided between rural and urban areas. About one-third of the workforce lies in agriculture. The 2014 GDP was US $34.25 billion, of which agriculture comprised 22.4 percent. Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa and cashews and an important producer of coffee, cotton, rubber, and palm oil (World Bank 2015; FAO 2015; GOCI 2015; CIA Factbook 2016; Arégheore 2009).

Côte d’Ivoire has a turbulent modern history beginning with relative prosperity during the early decades following independence in 1960, followed by economic stagnation beginning in the 1980s, and deteriorating into an internal – and frequently violent – conflict that raged throughout much of the period 2002-2011. Since 2012, the country has returned to an impressively solid rate of economic growth. However, recent economic growth has been uneven; benefiting urban populations much more than rural populations.

In 1998, with assistance from the World Bank, Côte d’Ivoire adopted the Rural Land Law, which aims to transform customary land rights into private property rights regulated by the state. The law has been criticized for its legal ambiguity, an overly complicated and costly registration process, and an institutional capacity that is simply too weak to implement the law. The law has also become somewhat entangled in questions of ethnicity and nationality as these concepts relate to access to land, which has fueled some controversy regarding the law’s intent. Implementation of the law has advanced only very modestly since its adoption in 1998. In addition, conflict between pastoralist groups and settled farmers, which is tied to questions of resource use, crop damage and questions of nationality/ethnicity continues to drive violence in the country.


  • Maintain flexibility in addressing rural land tenure types. Moving toward a rural land tenure regime that is governed by statute, rather than by custom, has proved to be an enormous challenge in Côte d’Ivoire–as well as a process subject to risks of land conflict. The Rural Land Law, adopted in 1998, remains problematic and difficult to implement. Recognizing this significant challenge, especially as it has been highlighted by the limited success in implementing the legislation over the past 2 decades, the Government of Cote d’Ivoire (GOCI) announced adoption of a new rural land policy on January 17, 2017. The new policy confirms the government’s intention to identify and formalize the mostly informal boundaries between rural villages, and to clarify the land property rights of rural landholders. Plans for implementation of the new rural land policy rely heavily on the newly-established Rural Land Tenure Agency (AFOR). Moreover, the policy establishes a policy implementation timeframe of 2017-2027. However, the objectives of the 1998 rural land law, confirmed by the 2017 rural land policy, remain immensely ambitious and require sensitivity regarding local customary land tenure management systems and land rights. Formalization goals and activities must be pursued in consultation with customary groups to ensure that the needs of rural populations are satisfied and that social tranquility is maintained. The donor community should promote dialogue involving the government, customary groups, and other rural land users to understand what paths may be available for systematically reducing uncertainty and conflict over rural land. Donors should also support training and orientation of rural land administration staff, including AFOR, as well as research on land tenure issues and challenges in rural zones.
  • Support decentralization of governance authority, and increase the focus on finding solutions to development challenges in rural areas. Land reform will not be a panacea for the full range of economic and social challenges in rural areas. The reality is that benefits from the current high levels of economic growth are flowing disproportionately to urban populations, to the relative exclusion of rural dwellers. From 1985 to 2008, national poverty rates increased from 10 percent to 43 percent – with rural areas suffering the biggest portion of the increase along with a concomitant deterioration in the quality of rural governance in nearly all sectors. For example, cuts in health and education expenditure under structural adjustment programs aimed at reestablishing macroeconomic stability have contributed to increases in poverty in rural areas. The current policy framework continues to neglect the importance of regionally balanced development. Higher allocations to quality education and effective decentralization are essential aspects of a rural development strategy capable of facilitating poverty reduction. Such a strategy should also account for the need to prevent deforestation and provide for environmentally sustainable sources of water. The donor community should facilitate increased and more effective decentralized governance and decision-making in rural areas, and support GOCI to develop and implement programs to increase the capacity for local, participatory governance.
  • Support women’s land rights. Custom excludes women from land ownership even though they produce and market most of the food in Côte d’Ivoire. A woman’s access to land is based on her status within the family and involves only the right of use. Of particular concern is a widow’s right to remain on the land she farmed while her husband was alive. The 1998 Rural Land Law reverses traditional practices with respect to women and land, granting them rights equal to those of men. However, to make land rights a reality and ensure that women are issued individual title deeds will require engagement at the village and family levels as the Rural Land Law is implemented. Donors should assist the government by piloting projects to guarantee women’s land rights through legal education programs targeting rural women and men. Donors should also consider helping the government to employ and train a cohort of community paralegals to provide such education as well as assist poor rural women and men in asserting and securing their land rights. Enforcement of women’s rights must be an integral part of implementation of the Rural Land Law and/or subsequent land reform laws.
  • Facilitate resolution of land disputes, especially those involving immigrants and pastoralists. In significant portions of the country people continue to permanently change land that they acquired as a result of immigration (particularly from Burkina Faso) and as a result of the internal armed conflict. Trees from previously virgin forests are being cut down, with cocoa plants and rubber trees planted in their place. In other cases, pastoralists (also from Burkina Faso) who were invited into the country decades ago to expand domestic livestock production, have long-standing conflicts with farmers over land use, access to fields and water, crop damages, displacements and attacks. Conflicts between these groups is often violent and unresolved grievances may drive some young Fulbe pastoralists to engage with extremist groups. Customary practices for dispute resolution, involving compromise and the avoidance of a zero-sum, winner-take-all outcome, appear to be better suited to resolving land conflicts than the formal judicial system. However, mediators, usually village chiefs or other traditional authorities, are often viewed by migrants as not impartial and by younger autochthones (customary community members), as illegitimate. Moreover, the land law still has provisions that the government needs to clarify in a way that conforms to international human rights laws and the rights of returning refugees. Donors should support NGOs with expertise in alternative dispute-resolution that can assist traditional and local governmental authorities in establishing mechanisms to resolve disputes with an eye not only to protecting individual rights, but also to preservation of social cohesion. Donors should also support the GOCI to formulate interpretations and eventual amendments as appropriate regarding those provisions of rural land law and policy that might appear to favor one category of actors over another.
  • Improve local land administration and facilitate formalization.  As a complement to facilitation of land disputes, there is a great need to ensure not only that a legal mechanism is in place to effectively resolve land ownership claims and disputes, but also to assist landowners in formalizing existing land use arrangements, demarcate property lines and registering property claims. In the face of severe, existing capacity shortcomings of land administration structures outside of Abidjan, there are often few, if any, practical, affordable options available to rural landholders seeking to register their land claims. The current policy and legal framework creates a rigid system that people work around by exchanging informal land use (leasehold) documents. By revising the requirements for formal land transfers, the government could build a stronger business enabling environment.  Donors should support the GOCI to revise the policy and legal framework to make it easier and less costly for people to register land use arrangements and for local land administration systems to create, improve, or better support existing land registration and land demarcation mechanisms, particularly the sub-prefectural land committees.
  • Develop participatory methodologies for land use mapping and planning in rural areas. Officials in both former and the current national administrations have promised that demarcating village boundaries is a priority and donor programs are working to demarcate village land, however, unsettled and uncertain boundaries complicate development planning.  In addition, unclear boundaries pose a risk to social peace because of unsettled land disputes among neighboring communities and jurisdictions. Clarity of local boundaries is a step toward improving land governance and addressing such problems as the proliferation of fraudulent sales, which is at the root of many land conflicts. A promising example of donor-supported mapping of collectively-held and managed land and natural resources is provided by the Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development Project (PRADD) being implemented in Seguéla. Donors should consider contributing both financially and technically to local land use mapping and planning.
  • Develop programs to mitigate and adapt to environmental degradation. Major consequences of land tenure insecurity in Côte d’Ivoire are: unsustainable artisanal and small-scale (ASM) mining and farming practices; deforestation; loss of biodiversity; and a generalized degradation of the environment. The Rural Land Law creates rural land-management committees at the village level that can help to educate local farmers and small-scale miners on environmental protection and sustainable farming and mining methods. Donors should support programs of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to train farmers and miners on environmental issues.
  • Support integrated water management practices. The water and sanitation infrastructure in Côte d’Ivoire fell into a state of disrepair during the armed conflict of 2002–2011; in consequence, the proportion of Ivorians with access to safe drinking water has been significantly reduced. At the same time, the legal framework governing the water sector has remained unclear. Although the GOCI adopted the current Water Code in 1998, it has been slow to complete and adopt the necessary framework of implementing regulations. GOCI created and transferred water-related responsibilities to the Ministry of Water and Forests (Ministère des Eaux et Forêts, or MINEF) in 2011 and approved a National Action Plan for Integrated Management of Water Resources in 2012. Donors should support recent efforts to create a coherent water-management strategy in Côte d’Ivoire, including technical assistance for systematic monitoring of water resources as well as repairs and improvements to water and sanitation infrastructure.


Prior to its current economic rebound that began in 2012, Côte d’Ivoire had experienced a number of jarring transitions, such as its transition from a star economic performer during its first two post-independence decades to a prolonged period of economic stagnation beginning in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s. Worse, the slow-growth economy of the 1990s was followed by a period of acute political uncertainty, civil conflict, and political tension that lasted from 2002 to 2011.

Côte d’Ivoire’s political and economic history is fundamental to understanding the country’s contemporary development challenges and options. The post-independence period was marked by the benign authoritarianism of Houphouet-Boigny, the country’s president from 1960 until his death in 1993. Capitalizing on the country’s vast potential for agricultural production, Houphouet-Boigny’s government adopted a “land-to-the-tiller” policy (i.e., “la terre appartient à celui qui la met en valeur,” or “land belongs to s/he who develops it”) that encouraged both Ivorians and immigrants from neighboring countries, particularly Burkina Faso, to invest in small-scale production. The result was an economic boom that established Côte d’Ivoire as the world’s leading producer and exporter of cocoa and secured the country’s leading role as an exporter of commodities such as coffee and rubber. However, by the mid-1980s, falling prices for cocoa and coffee, along with fiscal mismanagement by the government, became increasingly serious constraints to sustained economic growth (World Bank 2015; USDOS 2015; USDOS 2014).

In parallel to the mounting economic challenges and in response to the recognition that tenure insecurity was causing threatening disturbances in the countryside and discouraging farmers from investing in their land, the government’s rural land policy shifted by the mid-1990s as embodied in the Rural Land Law adopted in 1998 (the deadline for the implementation of this law is now 2023, based on a 2013 decree that extended the law’s original 10-year deadline). The 1998 law, enacted during a period of rising influence of the concept of Ivoireté, was more favorable to autochthones, thus contributing to the unraveling of earlier power balances between Ivorians and immigrants, among ethnicities, and across categories of rural producers, that had been in place during the era of Houphouët-Boigny. Donors are sensitive to the controversial nature of the law and some have called for its complete redrafting. Land tenure insecurity, they argue, stems from a variety of factors including migration, customary law, absence of legislation, and questions of national identity and citizenship. Any solution should account for regional differences. However, the recently adopted rural land policy (January 2017) reconfirms the commitment of GOCI to implement the 1998 rural land code law. The new policy places the newly-established AFOR at the center of the implementation program and defines the implementation timeframe for the new policy as 2017-2027 (World Bank 2015; USDOS 2015; Arégheore 2009; HRW 2013; OCDE 2016; GOCI 2017)).

Since the end of the civil war and the formation of a new government in May 2011, Côte d’Ivoire has resumed its earlier, post-independence pattern of strong economic growth. Côte d’Ivoire’s recovery since 2011 has been robust. However, poverty rates have shown little improvement. From 2012 to 2015, average per capita real GDP growth was about 6 percent in contrast to -1.9 percent during the internal armed conflict of 2002-2011. Estimates of the percentage of Côte d’Ivoire’s population living in poverty have fallen only slightly: from 48.9 percent in 2008 to 46.3 percent in 2015. Especially worrisome is the rural poverty rate, estimated to be as high as 56.8 percent. Although the country’s total population is approximately evenly split between those living in urban versus rural areas, in 2008 approximately 68% of the poor lived in rural areas – a proportion that is unlikely to have changed significantly in subsequent years (IMF 2016; INS 2015; The Africa Report 2014; World Bank 2015; OCDE 2016; OECD/FAO/UNCDF 2016).

Côte d’Ivoire has the highest level of biodiversity in West Africa, with between 3,600 and 4,700 plant species (including 105 threatened species) and 1,200 animal species distributed across the following categories: 232 mammals, 702 birds, 125 reptiles, 38 amphibians, and 111 fish (of which 11 are threatened). Most of this diversity occurs in the rugged interior region and not in the coastal regions. However, like the rest of West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire has suffered severe deforestation, primarily caused by conversion of forests to agriculture. By 2013, the country had lost nearly 60 percent of the 37,300 sq km of dense tropical forests that existed in 1975. During the same period, farmland increased by 227 percent. Agriculture, uncontrolled fires, and logging for tropical woods —once Côte d’Ivoire’s largest export by volume—were the primary causes of forest loss (UNEP 2015; Mongabay 2006; Tappan et al 2016).

Côte d’Ivoire has relatively abundant water resources, although water is scarcer in the north of the country. Increased urbanization and damage to water and sanitation infrastructure during the internal armed conflict decreased the proportion of Ivoriians with access to safe drinking water and increased water pollution.

GOCI has moved toward integrated water resource management in recent years, simplifying the institutional framework in 2011 and approving a National Action Plan for Integrated Management of Water Resources. GOCI has been slow to adopt the full range of decrees necessary for implementation of the Water Code, having only adopted 5 of the total of 23 targeted decrees by 2015.

Côte d’Ivoire has a growing mining and petroleum sector. Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) is illegal however as prices for cocoa fall, more local farmers, perhaps as many as 500,000, are attracted to mining, particularly gold mining (Economist, 2016). This mining drives the development of boom towns and can create environmental and labor concerns. Both the country’s Mining Code (adopted in 2014) and Petroleum Code (adopted in 1996) were designed to be attractive to private investors.


Published / Updated: July 2017

Learn More

blog posts


research & publications

tools & resources