El Salvador Table of Contents

Salvadoran farmers did not produce much cotton until after World War II, when several technological developments combined to facilitate farming on the coastal lowlands. One of these was the increased availability of drugs to combat malaria and yellow fever; another was the production of cheap chemical insecticides (insect infestation being the major obstacle to high cotton yields in El Salvador); and yet another was the development during World War II, when imports of cloth and clothing dried up, of a domestic textile industry. During the 1950s, cotton production increased fifteenfold. Production was boosted still further in the 1960s by the completion of the Carretera Litoral, the coastal highway running almost the length of the country.

Although it was one of the country's top sources of export revenue in the 1960s and 1970s, cotton was the major economic casualty of the civil conflict, virtually disappearing as an export commodity during the 1980s. The value of exports fell precipitously, from US$87 million in 1979, to US$56 million in 1983, and to only US$2.3 million in 1987. Many plantations in the eastern part of the country were abandoned as a result of the violence, while other plantations affected by the land reform shifted production to other crops. Those farms that continued to operate reported declining yields and a virtual cessation of investment and replanting. The cultivated area devoted to cotton declined from 82,000 hectares in 1979 to only 27,000 hectares in 1986, a drop of almost 70 percent. Production of seed cotton declined from 169,000 tons in 1979 to 55,000 tons in 1986.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress