French, Fon, Yoruba
Benin is a small country located in West Africa that shares borders with Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Togo. To the south is the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea. The climate can be divided into two geographical areas: The north has a predominantly dry south-Sahelian climate, and the south has mainly a tropical, humid climate.
In Cotonou, the main town on Benin’s coast and the country’s economic centre, the trade in used cars is booming. But the impression of a thriving economy in the bustling city does not show the whole truth. According to the Human Development Index, Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world: It is ranked 167th out of 187 countries. Almost half of the population lives in extreme poverty, meaning they live on less than USD 1.98 per day. The country is heavily in debt and struggles with its poor economic infrastructure. As a result, governmental policy focuses mainly on fighting poverty and promoting economic development.
Half of Benin’s population is employed in agriculture. Farmers primarily grow corn, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, and legumes both for their own consumption and for the local market. Cashew nuts and pineapples are major export products, but Benin’s biggest export is cotton. The dependence on agriculture, and especially on cotton exports, which account for up to three-quarters of Benin’s export revenue, renders the country highly sensitive to the impact of the regional climatic conditions and global market prices. It also means the agricultural sector plays a key role in the fight against poverty in Benin. CmiA’s goal is therefore to boost Benin’s agricultural output in order to ensure food security for the population and support economic development, thereby combatting poverty more effectively.Apart from the agricultural sector, the fashion and celebrity photographer Albert Watson was commissioned by the Aid by Trade Foundation to visit the country to photograph the people at the heart of CmiA, free from stereotyping. The images were then shown as part of a large retrospective exhibition at the Hamburg Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, Germany. They have also been featured at the “Albert Watson: 14 days in Benin” exhibition in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, Germany.
Sources: Human Development Report 2017 (UNDP), LIPortal 2018, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2017, LAENDERDATEN 2018, Wirtschaftskammer Österreich 2019, OEC: Das Observatorium für Wirtschaftliche Komplexität 2019