Lowland development efforts in West Africa have a mixed record. The paper posits that this is due to the neglect of: (1) market opportunity as driving force for lowland use; and (2) the wider context within which lowlands are used as important modifier. The paper applies a regression-based decomposition framework to analyze the factors driving and modifying lowland use in West Africa. It uses community-level data from 1014 geo-referenced lowland units around four urban centers along an agro-ecological gradient in Cote d'Ivoire and Mali. Tobit models are used to explain the extent of lowland non-use (seasonal fallow), its diversity (in terms of rice and other crop cultivation) and its land use intensity (double cropping). Results highlight that proximity to urban markets is positively associated with the extent, diversity and intensity of lowland use. Lowland use is also associated with the agro-ecological gradient, lowland development and migrants. A common thread linking these variables is that they modify resource scarcity and therefore lowland use incentives. Market access is therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition for the intensification and diversification of lowland use.