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June 06, 2008

Market gardening catches on in Burkina Faso

In poverty stricken Burkina Faso, a West African nation plagued by droughts, market gardening, the small scale production of fruit and vegetables as cash crops, is catching on.

"According to our calculations a market gardener can earn up to 200,000 francs CFA (300 euros, 465 dollars) a month in the right season," said agriculture ministry official Jeanne Zongo.

"Market gardening is very popular with farmers because there are no problems with finding buyers, especially for farmers close to the big urban centres," said Zongo, who coordinates the centre region for the ministry.

According to her, more and more farmers are turning to market gardens, small plots of fruits and vegetables, because of the substantial revenues they can get from them.

In Tanghin-Dassouri and Komki-Ipala, two municipalities to the west of the capital Ouagadougou, many inhabitants have turned to tending small vegetable patches in addition to their regular grain crops.

Souleymane Yalpougoudou, who lives in de Oueguelga village in Tanghin-Dassouri, says he plants more and more vegetables and fruits like onions, cabbage, courgette, carrots, strawberries and spinach. He started his market garden over 25 years ago. "It was the drought of 1973 that made me change. At the time the rain season was so catastrophic that we ate leaves from trees here," he said.

"The rains were not good and the harvests were mediocre. To protect against nature's follies, I dug wells with the help of my friends from the village to grow vegetables," Yalpougoudou, a 63-year old father of 18, recalled. "I already made in four months money which I had not done in four years with my big fields" of millet, sorghum and corn, he added.

With his vegetables, sold to city clients from Ouagadougou, Yalpougoudou has already earned some 400,000 francs CFA (600 euros, 927 dollars) this year. His eldest son Abdou did not manage to make that kind of money with his four hectares of grain crops.

Burkina Faso is one of the world's driest countries with only 1,500 cubic metres of rain fall per year. The region around Ouagadougou only gets around 700 cubic metres annually.

Although the agricultural authorities here stress that market gardening is very lucrative for farmers, some remain careful.

"It's true you can earn a lot of money and buy grains to feed your family," Yalpougoudou's son Abdou said. "But if everybody started doing that there would be no more grains to buy or the prices would be too high for anyone to afford them," he said.

"For example in a bad rain year like last year we would have the money but there would be no grains for us to buy," Abdou's friend Boukary Ouedraogo said.


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