With cotton sector reform in much of SSA a decade old, it is now possible to review the empirical record and begin drawing lessons from experience. This paper assesses the record of five countries in southern and eastern Africa: Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. In four of these countries, cotton is the first- or second most important smallholder cash crop; only in Uganda does it substantially lag other cash crops. The focus on the course of reform in each – initial conditions, key elements of the reform, and institutional response to it – and attempt to draw lessons for policy makers, donors, and researchers. the paper begins by outlining the challenges faced by cotton production and marketing systems. Next a review the range of pre-reform institutional responses to these challenges, before discussing the reform process in each country and reviewing the evolving institutional response to it. Finally, assess the performance that each country has achieved and attempt to relate this to its initial conditions and subsequent institutional responses, and closing by outlining lessons for strategies to improve cotton systems in SSA.