The Renewal of Time, Burkina Faso
To great chagrin, Nicholas Sarkozy addressed Senegal in 2007 as follows: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not entered fully into history…. They have never really launched themselves into the future.” According to Sarkozy, the African peasant knows only “the eternal renewal of time,” a knowledge by which “there is neither room for human endeavor nor the idea of progress.” This simplistic rendering of the African peasant ignores not only the complex identities and colonial histories of Africans and African nations, but the very value of rural livelihoods.
Indeed, the world has come to believe that growing food is so simple a task that it does not belong to a day and age like ours. On the contrary, my time in eastern Burkina Faso with Groundswell’s partner organization, Association Nourrir Sans Detruire (ANSD), would have me tell a very different story.
Based in Fada N’Gourma, ANSD is a small NGO whose work in over a hundred and fifty villages is designed around the facilitation and advocacy of non-input intensive, regenerative agro-ecological methods.
Faced with unprecedented climate fluctuations and depleted water tables, a majority of people in the region experience uncertainties as they raise livestock and practice rain-fed agriculture. The work that goes into these activities has never been easy and is becoming increasingly more difficult. The effort that the agro-pastoralists of eastern Burkina commit to their work is intended to renew time, so that the ecological systems that support them may continue to do so.
Innovating against risk and food insecurity, I witnessed the immensity of knowledge farmers put to use every season. From the many seed varieties of millet and sorghum, specialized by each generation to work within conditions of drought, floods and soil fertility, to the numerous forage foods – plants, leaves and fruits with high nutritional content and medicinal properties, the African peasantry retains knowledge and practices because they are beneficial. The problems and poverty experienced by rural populations in Sahelian countries like Burkina Faso are produced in large part by the environmental and economic failures of industrialized nations, in other words “progress.”
If progress was measured by the quality of life – social well-being, environmental health, the distribution of wealth, etc. – the citizens of Burkina Faso would no doubt be valued for their lifestyles. ANSD staff and its village constituents often discussed well-being and social relationships with me, almost always initiating the conversation with a question about the mental health of Americans. We joked about having an NGO exchange, which would facilitate the emotional and social development of the United States to counter the horrific rate of gun violence. I was repeatedly struck by Burkinabé greeting norms and wished for a similar culture of acknowledgement at home. Across cities and villages, saluting a stranger is encouraged if not common practice, and people often enter and leave social spaces or groups by recognizing every single person present.
Though busy with field preparation at the onset of the wet season, people I encountered often made time for each other after a busy day, including me in their meals and conversations. It was often hard to leave a field site for the next because of the strong relationships formed by the time set aside to consistently chat and enjoy each other’s company. Though we have heard it from many wise men and women, this experience is a reminder that it is time in the present that lets us live, not frenzied leaps into the future.
This blog post was written by Tarangini Saxena, a student in the Master’s in Development Practice program at Emory University. Tarangini is interested in development approaches that value self-determination and human dignity. She has in the past spent time with agricultural communities in Brazil and India, working on policy initiatives and learning how to grow her own food.