Rice consumption and production have an ever-increasing impact on West African national economies and the changing local ecologies of the region. Cote d'Ivoire illustrates this point, with rising rice consumption, primarily in urban areas. Between 1984 and 1989 this rise cost an annual average of U.S.$93.7 million in rice imports, which increased to U.S.$107 million in 1993, making Cote d'Ivoire the largest rice importer in West Africa (FAO 1995).
To meet this demand, large areas of moist lowlands and rain-fed uplands are being cleared for rice production. Rice is not a new crop to West Africa, and its cultivation has long been associated with a circumscribed "rice zone." Today, as rice cultivation expands into new areas, farmers from various cultural backgrounds working in diverse ecologies adopt the crop to fit their particular needs and experiences. Its cultivation affects domestic and local economies and results in ecological change in ways that reflect the collective historical experience of the peoples who grow the rice. Many recent attempts to classify crop environments based on physical characteristics for the purpose of extending cultivation, such as Wim Andriesse and Louise Fresco's characterization of rice-growing environments in West Africa (1991), fail to consider the cultural and economic history of the crop and its diffusion. To do so examines a crop's potential only in a theoretical, laboratory-type physical setting devoid of cultural influence. Yet the human element in agriculture is anything but neutral: Crop distribution is not restricted to biogeographical patterns.
In this article we combine the cultural history of rice cultivation in Cote d'Ivoire with the results of a field study of contemporary rice-cropping systems (Becker and Diallo 1992). based on data collected in interviews with rice farmers, local extension workers, and field observations in each of the fifty secondary administrative units, or departements, the country's rice cropping is divided into nine networks, or systems (Table I). Like Martin Lewis's regional agricultural geography in the Philippines (1992), these groupings are not territorially exclusive, although they mostly have a strong regional bond. Each takes into consideration the heterogeneous population of the country, where distinct systems of rice cropping are found side by side, often exploiting separate ecological niches and made up of sets of cropping technologies with their own histories. The approach is useful to development planners, especially when compared with the restricted biophysical focus so commonly used. An emphasis on networks addresses the production realities of farmers. No matter how many irrigation projects are built, farmers will only produce rice when it is in their best interest to do so. Beginning to recognize these self-interests is an essential step in efforts to improve agriculture.
IVORIAN PHYSICAL AND HUMAN ENVIRONMENTS
Cote d'Ivoire's physical landscape is underlain by Precambrian formations, dominated in the west by the granitic Mountains of Man, including 1,752-meter-high Mount Nimba at the point where Guinea, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire meet. Much of the landscape is undulating valley and upland, traversed by three major north - south-trending rivers - the Sassandra, the Bandama-Nzi, and the Comoe [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The climate is regulated by the relative positions of the tropical maritime air mass over the South Atlantic and the dry air associated with the North African anticyclone over the Sahara (Hayward and Oguntoyinbo 1987). The moist southwesterlies bring monsoon rains, with high rainfall totals (2,300 millimeters a year in Tabou). The longest rainy seasons are in the southwest, near the ocean, and in the mountains, along the border with Liberia and Guinea. But the dry Harmattan winds blow from the northeast, giving the Bouna Departement, bordering Burkina Faso (Upper Volta until 1984) and Ghana, low rainfall figures (less than 900 millimeters a year) (Atlas de Cote d'Ivoire 1979). …