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Posts Tagged ‘Burkina Faso’

Dear Friends,

Kombari (smiling on left) and members of the Gayeri women's group

Kombari (smiling on left) and members of the Gayeri women's group

I wish you could have been with me as I sat and listened to Kombari Odette and the other members of the Gayeri women’s group sharing their excitement about what they learned during a recent cross visit to Zandoma Province in northern Burkina Faso. Fatou Batta, Groundswell’s Co-Coordinator for West Africa, and 26 participants from 9 villages visited nearly a dozen sites to learn about how to increase food production on their barren land.

Kombari said, “We were amazed at how the women from those communities are growing vegetables on land that is even worse than ours. We now know we can do that as well.”

Another farmer who inspired them was Mr. Ouedraogo, because he is successfully regenerating and farming land that was completely degraded just a few years ago. Mr. Ouedraogo showed cross visit participants how to break through the rock-like surface of the land using techniques called half-moons and horse powered zaï. This allows him to capture and retain rainwater, to add compost, and to increase soil fertility and his crop production.

Farmers in eastern Burkina Faso learning to make zai holes using horses.

Mechanical zaï using horse power is a cost effective, practical and successful farming technique

One participant commented, “We could see how his soil fertility improved, and how large the millet plants were.” That’s why using the farm as a ‘classroom’ is among the best ways to show farmers the true potential of sustainable farming.

Mr. Ouedraogo and other local farmers said that digging zaï holes by hand with hoes takes almost 500 hours of labor per hectare, compared to 50 hours using horse power. Of the 41 families in Mr. Ouedraogo’s village, only 4 were food secure before adopting horse powered zaï and other sustainable practices, but now all of them are food self-sufficient and are selling their surplus production to pay for school, cloths, and other needs.

Woman watering field in village in Burkina Faso.

Participants also visited this thriving field maintained by a women's farmer group

When I visited the women in Gayeri, they were proud to show us the vegetable farm they had started, and they told us how they are convincing their husbands to recover the soil on their fields instead of finding new land to deforest. This is exactly the sort of practical, effective work your money supports when you donate to Groundswell. Cross visits to places like Mr. Ouedraogo’s farm cost us about $50 per person and have the potential to change not only the way a family farms, but entire communities!

If you would like to work with us to reach more communities, there is no better time than now. Thanks to a generous $25,000 matching grant from the Swift Foundation you can  double your investment. We have already matched nearly $18,000 and hope to raise the last $7,000 by the end of this month. Please help us reach our goal. All you need to do is check the “Match my gift!” box on our donation page or write “match my donation” in the comments section of your check.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Steve Brescia
International Director

Cantave

P.S. We are also making voices like Kombari’s heard in the halls of power. This week Cantave Jean-Baptiste of Haiti will represent Groundswell at the the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City, which convenes global leaders to promote innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. And Fatou Batta of Burkina Faso and Bern Guri of Ghana will join other civil society representatives to meet with the Gate’s Foundation supported AGRA program in Africa, advocating for more people-centered solutions. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter this week for updates.

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Fatou Batta, Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa

Between January and May 2010, Fatou Batta, Groundswell’s Co-Coordinator for West Africa, organized a series of planning workshops that brought together representatives of a number of government agencies, non-governmental and community-based organizations working in the field of agroecology to define a shared vision to improve the food security and wellbeing of tens of thousands of rural families living in eastern Burkina Faso. This process identified a number of successful innovations, including Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration Trees, which have already proven their potential to greatly improve food production while restoring the environment. In addition to a shared vision, the process permitted Groundswell and these local partners and organizations to develop a plan to promote and expand successful experiences in sustainable agriculture and food security. Below are a few highlights of achievements and results achieved during the plan’s first year:

  • Local Groundswell partners organized awareness raising and training sessions on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration of Trees in 13 villages with the participation of 382 farmers, including 157 women. These sessions strengthened farmers’ understanding about the benefits of FMNR and gave them the knowledge and skills to apply it on their farms. FMNR is an improved tree cutting technique used by farmers to restore the vegetative cover on their land. It consists in leaving out some sprouts from the various thrushes and trees per hectare during farmland clearing activities to follow up on their growth while ensuring maintenance and pruning of the sprouts selected.
  • Groundswell organized a cross visit to the Zandoma Province in the North, which allowed representatives of community-based organizations working with our local partners ARFA and APRG to meet with other farmers’ organizations. Twenty-six people participated in the cross visit, including 19 women from nine villages located in the communities of Diabo, Tibga and Gayéri. Participants visited nearly a dozen sites, learning about soil and water conservation, soil restoration, vegetable production, processing and storage of products, and sheep fattening activities, all run by women’s groups and farmers’ associations.

    Groundswell sponsored CBO cross visit to Zandoma Province, Burkina Faso

    Groundswell-sponsored CBO cross visit to Zandoma Province, Burkina Faso

  • Fatou and local partner staff provided support to women to improve vegetable production during the dry season, not only allowing them to generate revenue by selling their products in local markets but also improving both the quantity and quality of food for family consumption, especially for young children.  Participants have been trained in agroecological techniques for vegetable production – for instance, in the use of organic manure to improve soil fertility and pest control with natural products, such as Neem tree leaf extracts.
  • A three-day training session was organized for 50 women from five villages on processing techniques for Shea nuts and soap making, with the aim of improving the quality of the products and thus increase their value in the market.
  • Groundswell provided support to the Gayeri women’s group in digging a well and in rehabilitating the garden wells in three other villages – Tampoutin, Tiguili and Louargou.
  • Groundswell organized training workshops on techniques for drying and storing vegetables. Two five-day trainings were conducted, benefitting a total of 50 women from Gayéri and eight neighboring villages. Training in preservation techniques is a necessary because vegetable producers often lose much of their harvests. The participants in these vegetable preservation training events shared what they learned with other women in neighboring villages — thereby extending the reach of the program and fostering increased learning and exchange between women’s groups.
  • As part of our strategy of promoting agro-forestry, Groundswell and local partners have provided women with tree seeds to grow trees that can be used as live fences around their vegetable gardens.   Fencing is essential to prevent free grazing animals from destroying vegetables, yet wire fencing is costly.  Although live fences take time to grow, they cost much less than wire fencing and have the added benefit of breaking the wind.
  • In collaboration with its local partner ARFA, Groundswell organized information, reflection and training sessions for farmers’ organizations in three villages on the use of modern genetically modified seeds (GMOs) and pesticides.  The goal of this activity was to raise farmers’ awareness about biotechnologies and the risks associated with their use in crop production and animal fattening. The eastern region of Burkina Faso is an area where genetically modified cotton (Bt cotton) ​​is grown and where there is intensive use of pesticides. In recent years, the negative environmental consequences have become obvious, as articulated by producers gathered at the regional conference and civic dialogue on “Sustainable management of natural resources and the production of cotton in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso.”  Participants highlighted the many negative effects, including the disappearance of some plant species, and even some animal species, that have traditionally played important roles in food security coping strategies during the hungry season.

These are just a few of the achievements Groundswell and its partners have made over the past year. As our program grows and becomes stronger, we expect many more successes in the year ahead.

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Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Coordinator, recently returned from a three-week trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali. He visited our programs there and met with key local partners and many West African farmers. This slide show captures some of what he learned.

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On April 1st and 2nd, Fatou Batta, Groundswell’s Co-Coordinator for West Africa, participated as a panelist at a session on Food Solutions at the Pacific Northwest Funders Conference in Seattle.

Fatou’s presentation, titled “Food Solutions by and for People and the Planet”, was extremely well received by conference attendees. Please take a few moments to read her presentation below.

Introduction

Family in Burkina Faso with vegetables harvested from garden

Family in Burkina Faso with vegetables harvested from village field.

Today more than ever the international community is concerned with the challenge of feeding the world’s population through “food solutions by and for people and planet.”  This timely and complex issue requires responses that are appropriate and multifaceted.  Indeed the idea of food solutions refers to a number or related issues such as:

  • Agricultural policy and food production methods
  • The control of population growth
  • Management of agricultural lands
  • Food consumption patterns
  • Value added processing of food
  • Access to water
  • Availability and distribution of infrastructure
  • Market access
  • Human capital and knowledge
  • Internal and external migration of populations
  • Stability of countries in relation to conflicts, natural disasters, etc.

Within this complexity, I will focus my comments on the following:

1.    The context of food insecurity in the Sahelian countries of West Africa

2.    The causes of food insecurity, particularly in Burkina Faso

3.    The role of rural women in agricultural production and food security

4.    Challenges women face

5.    The priorities and solutions of rural women

1. The West African Context:  A challenging, fragile and high risk natural environment

Tantamba, a village leader, explaining challenges to farming in the Sahel.

Tantamba, a village leader, explaining challenges to farming in the Sahel.

In recent decades, the countries of West Africa have gone through successive food crises. Some of these crises are cyclical in origin, while others have more structural causes.  The recent financial and food crises of 2008 that shook the world and led to unprecedented protests in several countries, particularly Sahelian countries, have highlighted the structural causes that affect the availability and use of food resources. They also highlighted the fragility of agriculture in most Sahelian countries that practice subsistence agriculture based largely on rainfall, and are therefore very vulnerable to climatic hazards.

In its latest 2010 report on hunger, the FAO estimates that 925 million people are undernourished in the world.  Although this represented a decline of about 7.5% from 2009 levels, the figures are still too high, especially in Africa where one third of the population faces food insecurity and hunger.  And these numbers are again increasing as food prices have risen in recent months.  Indeed, global food security is threatened by population growth, changing eating habits, strong demand for agro fuels and disasters caused by climate change.  So policy makers feel an urgent imperative to increase agricultural production.

2. The causes of food insecurity: the case of Burkina Faso

Despite efforts over many years to reduce hunger and malnutrition, we must recognize that food insecurity remains a daily reality in Burkina as in most Sahelian countries. Basic cyclical factors like climate risk, low soil fertility and crop pests contribute to food insecurity.  There are also many contributing structural factors related to the availability, accessibility, and use of food.  The main factors for rural communities are: the low level of access to and management of water; degradation of natural resources; inadequate and poor roads and communications infrastructure; low income levels particularly in rural areas; poor access to credit; and weak nutrition education.  Finally, at the governmental and institutional levels, the coordination, support and monitoring of agricultural policies and programs for food security are not very effective or well-implemented.

Climatic and ecological changes in recent decades have led to the disintegration of traditional organizational forms of collective ownership, and the destabilization of the equilibrium of production and consumption patterns of different types of families.  These changes have resulted in a serious crisis in the family as the basic unit of society.  Another danger that threatens food security is land grabs for cultivation of non-food crops.  Farmers are under pressure from firms which are located upstream and downstream from agricultural production.

To meet the food needs of a growing population, some experts have called for high external input agricultural strategies and a promotion of technologies related to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, seeds and water consumption.  The risk is that we focus on maximizing productivity at the expense of social and environmental considerations to improve people’s lives.

We find that access to food for a majority of the population is not always related national agricultural production levels.  In many cases in sub-Saharan countries, at the same time that the authorities declare a surplus food production thousands of people are hungry and have to resort to food aid or go hungry.  The case of Burkina Faso is illustrative: at the end of the 2008-2009 agricultural season the government of Burkina Faso reported a strong harvest of more than 4.3 million tons of cereals, with a surplus of over 700 thousand tons (DPSA / DGPER, 2009). Yet the population of many areas in the northern part of the country did not have adequate food for even one meal a day.  A main reason is that the low income family farmers must produce food sustainably and do not have money to purchase food.

3.  Women’s roles related to agriculture and food security, and the challenges they face

Women working together to water their fields.

Women working together in eastern Burkina Faso to water their fields.

The role of women in agriculture has taken on added importance as African countries continue to suffer from famine and malnutrition.  Women are the primary link between production, family consumption and ensuring the nutrition of children and the whole family.

Since the great droughts of 1973-74 and 1984-85 in the Sahel countries, women have seen an increase in their responsibilities in agricultural production because the majority of the male workforce increasingly leaves vulnerable areas in search of employment in cities.  This has led women to spend more time in the fields in order to meet the needs of family members – especially children and the elderly. Over 30% of people in countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are in almost permanent food insecurity (IFPRI, 2004). In times of crisis, women are the main players in the survival of families.  Indeed it is women who develop initiatives and strategies to overcome these crises, and make a disproportionate effort to keep their families fed.  The result is that rural women play a central role in household food production and food security in the Sahel.

So if we seek to improve the food security of small scale farming families in the Sahel, we must necessarily support women.  The big questions are:  Do we clearly understand the roles of rural women?  Can we identify appropriate kinds of support for them?  How can we provide that strategic support without further destabilize the family unit?

According to the latest data on Sub-Saharan Africa, women represent over 50 percent of agricultural labor – the highest proportion in the world.  However this proportion varies greatly between countries and even within countries.  Data indicates that women’s participation in agriculture ranges from at least 33% in the coastal countries to over 60% in a country like Niger.  In Burkina Faso, women represent over half of the agricultural workforce, and their participation rate in economic activities in rural areas is 81% (ENSA 1993).  Although they are heavily involved in agricultural activities, women’s roles vary significantly by regions, ethnic groups and production systems.

3.1 Women’s Role in Agriculture and Livestock Production

Goats and other livestock are key for rural livelihoods and for maintaining soil fertility.

Goats and other livestock are important for rural livelihoods and soil fertility in Burkina Faso.

Rural women in Burkina Faso participate in farming activities, ranging from responsibility for a few activities to being primarily responsible for all farming activities – including difficult tasks such as stump removal in some regions.  In some areas of western Burkina Faso, after marriage women are primarily responsible for working to repay the dowry paid by their husbands.

During a recent discussion with the women of Tampoutin, a village in eastern Burkina Faso, they described that they are involved in all agricultural activities – from the preparation of fields, which is their exclusive responsibility, to the transport of crops after harvest.  In addition to this crushing burden, they cultivate personal plots of peanuts, cowpeas, groundnuts, sesame, and okra.  Yet often the land they are provided to cultivate is already highly degraded.  As family fields become too degraded to farm, husbands allow women to cultivate these parts of the farms.  Such plots are also often very small, so women are required to cultivate several scattered plots. The fragmentation of plots leads to an inefficient use of women’s time, especially since they only have the right to work on their own fields after they have completed their work on the main family plots, which is usually when the sun goes down.  This leaves women little time for their own activities.

Despite these constraints, women make enormous efforts to produce food in order to meet their needs and those of their families.  For example, I recently spoke with Tantamba, a 45 year old woman who is a leader who lives in Tibga village.  Over the past two years she has produced enough in her field to feed her family. The plot that her husband’s family granted her is largely barren and eroded by water runoff.  In her first year working the plot, her efforts were entirely unproductive, as she cultivated with a hoe and barely producing enough for 5-6 months of the year.  But through perseverance and the opportunities provided to learn improved agroecological farming techniques, she is now produces enough food for her family for all 12 months of the year.  To conserve and improve her soil she uses the techniques of mulching (dead leaves and branches laid on the ground); working with her children to collect the manure of animals in the wild and transporting it in small containers to integrate into her fields; and transporting rocks to construct stone bunds, or rock barriers for soil conservation.  With these approaches and hard work she has managed to restore part of her plot and increase its production.  She is continuing her efforts to improve the land through locally accessible technologies.  Tantamba expressed great satisfaction that she is able to produce enough to meet her family’s cereal requirements for the entire year, while generating some surplus to sell so she can invest her earnings in other income generating activities.  Last year she received support and guidance from an NGO, including a cart, plow mules and a compost pit, allowing her to further increase her production.

In the latest edition of its report on the global status of food and agriculture, the FAO said if women in rural areas had the same access as men to land, technology, financial services, education and markets, it would be possible to increase agricultural production and reduce the numbers of hungry in the world by 100 to 150 million people.  The report adds that by giving women farmers in developing countries the same access as men farmers to agricultural resources, women-managed family farms could increase their production by 20 to 30 percent.  This would increase total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, and would reduce from 12 to 17 percent the number of undernourished people worldwide (the total of 100 to 150 million people).

In the area of ​​livestock management, women are responsible for watering the animals, a task they perform with the help of their young children.  In some areas they can engage in fattening livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats, and can raise poultry, which can generate income and/or be bartered for grain in times of need.

Another example of a woman improving her life is Lucie.  She is the president of the hygiene and sanitation committee in her village in Mali, and she has also maintains a garden plot.  She received training in agroecological production and some basic equipment from an NGO.  When I recently interviewed her she said: “Earlier, our food supplies ran out before we reached the next harvest, and my family had problems obtaining money to buy food.  Now my vegetable production has allowed me to feed my family and even to buy a sheep.  And the sheep has now had offspring.”  Like other women, Lucie has been able to meet the food needs of her family by diversifying and improving her production.

3.2 Women’s Roles in Natural Resource Management

Women also play an important role in the management of natural resources, and because of that are key sources of knowledge about biodiversity.  As one of their tasks is to gather fuel wood for the household, they are very familiar with different species of trees and their uses.  They also are responsible for gathering wild fruits and leaves for family needs, or for sale to generate income to help ensure food security for the family.  Women also earn substantial income to purchase food for their families by exploiting species such as shea butter, tamarind, baobab, locust, and balanites, etc.  Locust seeds are rich in protein, and women process them into foods to improve their family diets and contribute to the recovery of malnourished children.

3.3 Women’s Roles in Processing and Marketing Agricultural Products

Women also engage in non-farming activities, including the processing, preservation and marketing of agricultural products.  Food security is not limited to agricultural production, as there are many important activities required to manage beneficial linkages between producers and the market.  These activities include processing, marketing and distribution.  Women play central roles in allowing products to be stored, transported to markets, and circulated according to consumer demands.  At the same time, women play crucial roles in the development of local markets.  Given these primary responsibilities, much flexibility and decision making is in the hands of women and they can develop strategies to improve family and community wellbeing.  Ways to provide support at this level include improving rural roads and transportation infrastructure, local food storage facilities, and appropriate technologies for processing agricultural products (such as husking fonio, processing rice, or making shea butter).  All of these would help create more favorable conditions for local markets and improve the condition of women.

4. Challenges and difficulties

Despite the importance of their roles, women farmers are often not involved by policy makers and funders in decision making regarding development programs and policies.  Even while some efforts have been made over the last two decades on behalf of women in agriculture, these are still not sufficient.

Women are investing in agro-ecological practices that are more sustainable, respectful of the environment and biodiversity, and better adapted to the conditions of small-scale farmers.  Yet they face many difficulties in accessing resources.  They have little access to training on technical and management issues, because their specific needs are not taken into account either within organizations or in the design and content of training sessions.  In many cases, they are not able to access equipment and inputs that are intended for the family farms, yet are controlled by men.

In recent focus groups with women we discussed their access to use family farming equipment.  Without exception women expressed that they are not entitled to use the equipment at peak seasons, and when their husbands do give consent it is generally too late for required agricultural activities like plowing or weeding.   Likewise, they expressed that animal manure or compost, an important source of organic fertilizer, is reserved for family fields, even though women play a key role in filling and maintaining compost pits.  The quantities of compost produced are not even sufficient for the family farm fields, so none is left for women’s plots.

5. The priorities of rural women

The important role of women in agriculture is evident.  It is also clear that development strategies to improve the food security of small rural producers in the Sahel should emphasize support for women.  So this raises the important question:  What is the best way to support women and to ensure that this support is sustained?

One of the proposed solutions to boost agricultural production in Africa, in particular since the 2008 food crisis, is the Green Revolution.   While the model of Green Revolution of the 1960s that was introduced in Asia and Latin America produced some spectacular results in terms of increased productivity, it has also had devastating effects on the environment and the social fabric.  Now these same experts are trying to introduce a Green Revolution in Africa that supposedly has been cleared of its past imperfections.  African farmers do not seem convinced.  Nearly a half century after the introduction of the Green Revolution much of humanity is still suffering from chronic famine, so it is doubtful that the problems of hunger and poverty can be solved by this solution.

On the other hand, a number of African organizations and national and regional networks are working to promote alternative solutions, based on the experiences of African farmers and that are appropriate to the African context.  These include the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the We are the Solution campaign.  It is in this context that organizations of rural women in Africa are seeking to express their concerns and interests.  Key concerns are the loss of diversification of crops and seeds, and the reduction or even loss of the ability to farm and produce in a way that allows them to sustain their families during the lean periods.  These factors undermine the resilience of families to respond to food shocks such as price spikes or droughts.

Women have analyzed their needs from a practical and strategic point of view, and have identified the following priorities:

  • Training on sustainable farming techniques
  • Access to information on markets and training in value added processing for agricultural products
  • Strengthening their organizational capacity
  • Access to credit and equipment
  • Land tenure security
  • Agricultural research based on traditional knowledge
  • Documentation and enhancement of existing knowledge of women
  • Access to appropriate technologies to reduce the burden of food processing
  • Access to literacy, education and services for reproductive health.

6. The Role of Groundswell International

The Sahel is extremely vulnerable to disasters, droughts, floods and invasions of pests.  In such a fragile and vulnerable environment, the slightest shocks can send hundreds of thousands of families deeper into a vicious cycle of poverty.   In this context, the NGO Groundswell International is working to address the structural causes of food insecurity by strengthening the capacities of farmer organizations to promote agro-ecological approaches to improve the resilience of their farming systems, sustainably manage their natural resources and preserve the biodiversity upon which they depend.  While successful local alternatives and agroecological practices exist, in general they have not been supported by governments and development agencies, so their potential has remained untapped.

Groundswell’s strategy in Burkina Faso is to:  a) support a network of local organizations to identify sustainable agricultural practices that are being implemented by communities and are showing a promising impact in the fight against poverty and hunger; b) to further support, diversify and strengthen these practices and examples; c) to strongly prioritize the leadership and involvement of women and women’s groups in the process;  d) and to spread and multiply the adoption of these practices through support and knowledge sharing between farmers, women’s groups, communities and local organizations.

Groundswell International is a partnership of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and resource people in Africa, Latin American and Asia that is committed to strengthening the capacity of rural communities to achieve positive social change.  The founders and members of the Groundswell partnership have decades of experience in methodological and technical support for rural development process that strengthen the capacity of local organizations to promote environmentally friendly farming practices that protect the environment, biodiversity and strengthen the resilience of local food systems. These approaches are an important part of sustainable solutions to improving food security and overcoming poverty in rural communities.

Conclusion

Whatever the level of global and national food supply, development policies and practices should directly address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition among the majority rural populations.  This includes the lack of sustainable strategies for the rural poor, especially women and children, to access adequate, healthy food.   Women have little access to land and other productive resources, and their involvement in the survival of their families and households is undervalued.  In spite of this, many women have demonstrated their ability to overcome family and community-level challenges and to successfully diversify and increase their food production and income, sustain their families and become more resilient in the face of crises. Women must be seen as important leaders and an undervalued resource in the struggle to end poverty and hunger in Africa.

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Women leaders attending planning workshop in Burkina Faso.

Women leaders attending Groundswell planning workshop in eastern Burkina Faso.

Earlier this year Groundswell International received a grant to support a participatory planning process with rural community-based organizations in the eastern part of Burkina Faso in order to develop a three-year plan to improve the wellbeing of tens of thousands of rural families and to scale-up proven, people-centered solutions to poverty.

Groundswell Co-Coordinator for West Africa, Fatou Batta, based in Burkina Faso, led the design and implementation of the planning process in that country, with significant support and collaboration from our other West Africa Co-Coordinator, Peter Gubbels, who is based in Ghana. The process has now been successfully completed, with more accomplished that we had originally planned with the minimal resources available (less than $8,000).

Fatou and Peter employed a highly effective and participatory methodology, allowing for quality participation, input and ownership by local people. Comparable planning processes by other organizations often cost between $50,000-100,000. The result is a young, enthusiastic network of local organizations with a plan to spread agroecological practices in order to overcome poverty and hunger and to strengthen women farmers’ wellbeing and leadership.

Read a summary of the Burkina Faso planning process and program plan.

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Burkina Faso, West Africa

Burkina Faso, West Africa

During the last week of February, Groundswell’s Co-coordinators for West Africa, Fatou Batta and Peter Gubbels, facilitated a workshop with local organizations in eastern Burkina Faso to develop a three-year action plan. The plan focuses on working with peasant associations and women’s groups to promote and expand agroecological production, improve food security and strengthen local food systems. In addition Groundswell hopes to strengthen a network of local organizations to advocate for agroecology as an effective model to overcome poverty and as an alternative to approaches that promote costly dependence on high levels of external inputs (fertilizers, genetically modified seeds) and that focus on exports instead of local needs.

Eastern Burkina Faso has three distinct agroecological zones defined by INERA (Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles), an agricultural research institute, based on rainfall, dominant crops, soil and farming systems. Over the years, Fatou has worked extensively in Gnagna Province, which is in the first and northern most agro ecological zone, characterized by lower rainfall, higher rates of erosion and desertification, and lower levels of vegetative cover. Our program will likely be sited in the second agroecological zone between the much drier north and the more forested third agroecological zone in the south. Within this second agroecological zone we have identified a number of provinces and departments in which our potential partners have existing programs that merit documentation and expansion.

Women leaders in Burkina Faso

Women leaders in Burkina Faso

During Fatou’s and Peter’s village visits they learned that many families have migrated from the north (Gnagna Province) because of desertification and environmental degradation. As a result, we are confident that the agroecological innovations already being developed in the northern most agroecological zone can be adapted to the second agroecological zone, complementing the effective innovations already developed there by villagers and potential partner organizations. Similarly, there are more agroforestry and forest protection related innovations in the southern (third agro ecological zone), where some of our potential partners also work, that could be applied in the second zone.

Though we are still in a process of dialogue and planning, outlines of a program strategy are emerging. We will likely collaborate with three local NGOs, a number of peasant associations, and INERA.  Successful but small-scale examples of agroecological production currently exist in eastern Burkina Faso, but their adoption is limited. Groundswell hopes to support partners to spread these approaches widely across families and communities by providing support and strengthening a local network for learning and coordination.  Look for more details soon as we work to launch this program in 2010.

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