This paper explores the case for believing endogenous reforms to be more developmental than externally-imposed reforms, by drawing on the recent unorthodox experience of cotton sector reform in Burkina Faso. We address questions about reform emergence, feasibility, developmental impact, and sustainability. Our analysis, which carefully incorporates local social and political realities, suggests that the urban elites dominating the Burkinabè state favoured a particular cotton reform process, because it provided them with higher rents; while allowing for some rent distribution to the rural world which secured national consensus around reform. Endogenous reforms, though more feasible, are not necessarily more sustainable over time. In Burkina Faso, the initial reform benefits were eroded after 2006. We interpret this as due to the inability of the new institutional equilibrium to win over the ressure from changed stakeholder incentives, as well as to a loss of responsiveness of the rural leadership to its base.