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May 29, 2011

Burkina Faso’s farming miracle

by Duncan Green

Just been reading ‘Helping Africa to Feed Itself: Promoting Agriculture to Reduce Poverty and Hunger’, a paper by Steve Wiggins and Henri Leturque, both of the ODI. It’s a brilliant and to my mind, very fair overview, with one of its main messages being that regional generalizations about Africa are usually misleading – some subregions of Africa (eg West and North) have actually done very well in producing food and feeding their populations (not always the same thing), while others (e.g. southern Africa) have bombed. One box particularly jumped out – on the extraordinary success of Burkina Faso.

“The statistics are remarkable. Since the early 1960s output in cereals in Burkina has grown at an annual average of 3.5% a year, well ahead of population growth, a rate that matches that of Vietnam (see chart).



Production of rice in Vietnam and cereals in Burkina Faso, 1961/65 to 2001/05

How has this generally unheralded success been achieved? In the 1960s the central plateau of Burkina was an area of average rainfall in the range 500–700mm, poor soils, and yields of cereals — mainly millet and sorghum — of just 500kg/ha. With such meagre resources, many of the able-bodied young men migrated to find better work, often to Côte d’Ivoire and other countries to the south. But since then field surveys reveal the following changes:

Soil and water have been conserved, most notably by use of stone bunds and improved traditional planting pits (‘zai’) to retain water and topsoil;

Trees have been planted, livestock have been kept in semi-intensive systems and the manure gathered and applied to the fields; and,

Collective institutions to manage wells, natural resources, village cereal banks and schools have multiplied.

http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=3851

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