Cotton has been a success story in West Africa since independence swept the region in the early 1960's. Today, however, 'white gold' is struggling to maintain its allure. Recent declines in world cotton markets have created a crisis in the region's cotton sectors. Cotton is still being produced within an institutional structure that dates back to the independence era of the early 1960's. The new era of volatile cotton markets, new technological frontiers, and global challenges are placing demands on institutional change. This paper uses an economic model of the agricultural sector to predict the impacts of cotton liberalization. Shifting control from the state into the hands of the private sector would provide significant benefits to society. Farmers in particular, hard hit by the cotton crisis, would receive long-needed relief from prior policies that kept cotton incomes artificially below world price levels.