Context of Burkina Faso Rural Development Program
Over 80% of the economically active population in Burkina Faso depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Yet the agricultural system in Burkina Faso, as in other countries in Africa’s Sahel, is predominantly rain-fed subsistence agriculture and is therefore very vulnerable to climatic hazards. Sahelian countries regularly face insufficient agriculture production due to poor and unevenly distributed rainfall, steady degradation of soils and other natural resources, and inadequate production methods and systems. As a result rural families live in a state of near permanent food insecurity. Eastern Burkina Faso in particular is often hard hit by famine. On top of these challenges, during the last several years a wider global food crisis has had further negative impacts on food security across West Africa.
Experts and policy makers from foundations, development agencies and governments are proposing solutions to address this crisis – including a new “green revolution for Africa,” based on the earlier green revolution experience in Asia, that seeks to increase productivity and achieve food security largely through an emphasis on external inputs and improved seed varieties. While the Asian Green Revolution had successes in increasing agricultural production and reducing large–scale famine, it also had unexpected negative impacts. Recent analysis shows that key external inputs, technologies and investments used in implementing that approach have led to increased vulnerability for many small-scale farmers. Extensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers has had devastating impacts on the soil, water sources and human health. Many small-holder farmers have fallen into greater debt and have become increasingly dependent on expensive inputs produced by multinational corporations. The net effect of the Green Revolution has been less resilient local communities, due to depleted soils and water sources, dependence on external technologies and reduced local organizational capacities.
Groundswell’s Response to Development Challenges in Eastern Burkina Faso
African farmers’ organizations are concerned that “new green revolution” proposals will have similar negative effects in Africa and ignore proven, viable alternatives to addressing poverty. These organizations are coming together to promote more appropriate strategies for rural development based on sustainable agriculture and strengthening of local food systems. Groundswell International together with its partners, Association Nourrir Sans Detruire (ANSD) in Burkina Faso and the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) in Ghana, are working with West African farmers’ organizations, to strengthen this movement in West Africa by drawing on decades of successful experience in helping rural communities to overcome poverty and hunger through sustainable agriculture approaches. These methods are financially accessible to small scale farmers, depend on local initiative and innovation, and are appropriately adapted to local ecosystems. Most importantly, they have a proven track record of improving community food security.
With the generous financial backing of many donors, Groundswell, ANSD, and CIKOD are providing life-saving support to thousands of families in some of the hardest hit areas. We are promoting sustainable farming and livelihood strategies to ensure the food security of poor farm families. These include: teaching water and soil conservation techniques (stones bunds, zaï holes), establishing the practice of composting to improve soils; raising communities awareness and organizing training sessions on farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR); promoting the use of improved seeds for staple crops; supporting women’s groups to diversify their income sources through market gardening and other livelihood activities; and, facilitating network building among farmer organizations.
Since 2010, Groundswell and its local partners have made great gains in consolidating successes in Burkina Faso and building upon them to spread the program to northwestern Ghana. Not only are we improving farming practices in some of the most vulnerable villages in Burkina Faso and Ghana, we are establishing cooperative relationships that cross borders and engaging with local governments and regional initiatives to promote food security policies that will bolster our work on the ground. At the end of 2012, the work in Burkina Faso had already reached 2,478 households in 19 villages, with 7,434 direct beneficiaries (including 3,794 women) and 20,549 indirect beneficiaries (including 10,888 women). The results are tangible both in terms of improving living conditions of women and their families and also in terms of strengthening social cohesion and group dynamics.
Burkina Faso Program Objectives Through 2013
Goal: To strengthen the capacities of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community based organizations (CBOs) and women’s organizations to improve agricultural production, income generation, food security, nutrition and gender equity for 29,500 families by improving and scaling out effective agroecological practices and diversifying livelihoods.
Objective 1: By December 31, 2013, 2,642 of existing households involved with partner organizations, including 20% women headed households, will improve their food security and the nutrition of children under five. An additional 1,585 new households (an increase of 60%) will start achieving similar results through ripple effect strategies.
Objective 2: By December 31, 2013, 18,484 existing beneficiaries, 50% of them women, will strengthen their organizational skills and improve their families’ livelihoods and wellbeing. An additional 11,090 new beneficiaries (an increase of 60%) will start achieving similar results through the ripple effect strategies.
Objective 3: By December 31, 2013, a local network to share learning and improve food security will be consolidated.
Objective 4: By December 31, 2013, results and lessons learned will be assessed, documented and shared within the agro-ecological zone and more widely in West Africa.
We are employing a number of overarching and specific strategies to achieve our objectives and overall goal in eastern Burkina Faso. The three overarching strategies are:
- Support and expand the agro ecological practices already undertaken by local NGOs and their partner CBOs in collaboration with the National Research Institute (INERA) for the action-research component.
- Start with the agro ecology techniques that do not require high inputs in terms of labor and financial resources while providing significant income for farmers to invest in the improvement of their farming tools and the implementation of techniques that are more costly.
- Encourage ownership and a strong involvement of beneficiaries through collective decision-making on what new innovations to experiment with, joint review through exchange visits, and thematic discussions to reach mutual agreement on the most effective techniques to expand.
Some of the most important specific strategies we employ in Burkina Faso are:
- Capacity building: we focus on the village-by-village approach to awareness raising. Farmers who participate in various exchange visits and who implement agro-ecological techniques the see during these cross visits are becoming role models in their communities.
- Farmer experimentation: we support on-farm experimentation of some innovative agro ecological techniques to facilitate their adaptation and wider dissemination. Experimentation topics include integrated management of soil fertility, the development and use of short cycle seed varieties, among others.
- Agriculture training: Trainings sessions are organized based on geographic clusters. Also mass-training sessions are conducted on site in the villages on agriculture topics, such as the production and use of organic manure, crop management, land preparation techniques, sheep fattening and food banks. These training workshops are economical and allow us to reach the maximum number of beneficiaries, especially women who find it difficult to travel out of their villages.
- Support for household livelihood activities: although establishing a water supply for vegetable production is expensive, it pays off in the long run. Indeed, it has greatly improved the production and availability of fresh vegetables in the villages. The consumption of these vegetables has improved the diet in many households, generated substantial income for women, and contributed to better relationships between the growers. Additionally, in the context of climate change, where there is a disruption in normal rainfall patterns and increased flooding and drought, market gardening during the dry season is contributing significantly to food security to the extent that it allows families to produce food they can eat and sell to complement their regular rain-fed crops.
- Cross visits: farmers participate in exchanges between villages to learn about successful experiences in agro ecology in order to enhance their knowledge of effective practices.
- Network building: Workshops are organized to allow farmers’ organizations and women groups’ representatives to assess their activities, identify constraints to the spread of agro ecological practices, define possible solutions under their control and those requiring external support, as well as share lessons.
Regional Agroecology Project in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali
In January 2013, Groundswell launched a two-year initiative called “Scaling Farmer-led Agroecology in West Africa”, with local partners in Burkina Faso (Association Nourrir Sans Détruire), Ghana (Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development), and Mali (Sahel Eco) as well as Food First, and ILEIA. Learn more about Groundswell’s agroecology project in West Africa.
Below is a brief slide show outlining some of the key elements of Groundswell’s work in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in West Africa: