In this article, the very different cotton production schemes that the state introduced in colonial and post-colonial Mozambique are explored. Three distinct periods in the history of cotton production are examined. In the first, the focus is on the impact of cotton cultivation on the daily lives of peasants trapped in a highly coercive labor regime which Portugal imposed in 1938 and enforced for almost a quarter of a century. An outline of the abortive attempt of the newly independent FRELIMO government to revitalize cotton production from 1977 to 1985 as part of its broader socialist agenda to transform the countryside, is given next, and the study is concluded with a discussion of recent state efforts to promote joint cotton ventures under the guise of the IMF - World Bank structural adjustment program. An analysis of these changing cotton regimes offers a way of exploring a wide set of issues in the sustainability debate. The Mozambican cotton scheme demonstrates the extent to which state development planning often is not only about either social or ecological sustainability but also about control, power, and effectively silencing the rural poor by experts disconnected from the countryside. It is also stressed that the politics of memory is an important dimension of the sustainability debate and the broader ideological struggles which it reflects. Try as they might, neither the colonial state nor the postcolonial state could control how peasants constructed and interpreted the past. The official representations of cotton as a path to progress, whether on a capitalist or a social road, were simply dismissed by most growers who knew better.