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February 02, 2009

Burkina Faso has bumper grain harvest, but marketing decisions cause shortages, high prices

by Brahima Ouédraogo

Looking worried, Hadja Mamounata Belegda, commercial grain farmer, rubs the beads of her rosary between her fingers and ponders the consequences of grain shortages on the market in Burkina Faso.

"In previous years I would have had 4,000 - 5,000 tonnes of grain in my warehouses but this year (2008-2009), I did not even have 1,000 tonnes in my four warehouses," she laments. Belegda explains that as soon as the bumper harvest of the 2008-2009 agricultural season was announced, traders from neighbouring countries rushed to Burkina Faso to purchase grain.

Thanks to good rainfall and a grant input from the Burkina Faso government, cereal production for 2008-2009 reached more than 4.2 million tonnes - a surplus of 717,000 tonnes.

"We expected prices would go down, but we were caught off guard and now see that prices will continue to rise," laments Belegda. According to her, rather than cereals being imported from elsewhere as usual, this year they are being exported to Ghana, Mali and the Ivory Coast.

The trend is confirmed by Green Africa, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) specialising in information on grain prices in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The Ouagadougou-based NGO said in its January report that the scarcity of grain on the market led to a price increase of 14 percent for millet and 20 percent for sorghum and maize.

"The bag of maize which cost 7,500 CFA francs (about $15) on our markets in November, has quickly risen to 12,000 CFA francs in December and 15,000 CFA francs in January, following strong demand for the cereal from Ghana." This is according to Joseph Dagano Moussa, President of the Federation of Agricultural Professional Producers of Sissili (FEPACI), in the mid-west of the Sahelian West African country.

According to Green Africa, the scarcity of grain, despite an exceptional harvest, is mainly linked to the renewing of stocks by producers and traders in deficit areas. Furthermore, traders are already busy stockpiling. The NGO adds that this heavy demand impacts on grain prices and availability.

The NGO says the situation remains worrying, even though some observers predict a drop in prices, given that much of the grain producers' stock is not yet on the market - especially in surplus areas. Green Africa adds that as an additional measure, farmers in production areas are for now selling peanuts, sesame and beans; all of which were also produced in abundance this year.

To encourage farmers to put their produce on the market, members of the Burkinabé government met with producers and traders in the second week of January in the capital Ouagadougou.

The Minister of Agriculture, Water and Fisheries, Laurent Sédogo, who attended the meeting, says, "There are urgent measures to be taken and awareness needs to be raised because this meeting with the traders and producers helped us understand that there is some reluctance from producers, who need to feel trusted."

According to Sédogo, the government will renew production subsidies granted to producers for the past season.

"We will go to producers and reassure them, put our trust in them and encourage them so that they make their grain available to retailers," says Sédogo. He stresses that, amongst other things, the grants will be renewed this year (2009-2010) so as to produce sufficient grain, as was the case in the previous season.

"I feel reassured because this year I must collect 30,000 tonnes of cereals (maize and sorghum) and I think there will be a surge of patriotism that will see us supplying our people with this stock before we bring out other cereals," says Charles Sawadogo, director-general of the National Agency for the Management of Food Security Reserves, a public company.

Last year, to help the most needy populations cope with soaring prices, the government took 30,000 tonnes of grain from its security stocks, which it sold at a discounted price of about $18 for a 100 kg bag.

However, Sawadogo remains concerned about the market price: "We buy at a certain price to be able to resell at a discounted price, hence when we buy too expensively, not only does this give us insufficient stock, but we then sell at a significant loss."

According to Soumaila Cissé, president of the Interprofessional Committee for the Cereal Sector, an interface between producers and traders, the government should have undertaken consultations with stakeholders at the end of the agricultural season to prevent the export of several thousand tons of cereals.

"This dialogue is good because it's not about pointing fingers at each other; it's about everyone being aware of their responsibilities," says Cisse, whose organisation has less than 200 tonnes in its warehouses yet usually has 3,000 - 6,000 tonnes of collected grain at this time of year.

Mamadou Sanou, the Burkinabé Minister for Trade, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Crafts, says, "We will maintain contact at all times, we will work with them in a spirit of mutual understanding, consensus and problem-solving. But as for robust solutions, we are not there yet. If prices continue to rise, we could have a repeat of last year's violence, when we instead want peace in the country iif we are to develop as a people," Sanou stresses to producers.

According to Bassiaka Dao, president of the Farmers Federation of Burkina Faso (CPF), it is particularly important to subsidise agriculture for several years to ensure food self-sufficiency and the wellbeing of producers.

He explains, "To avoid problems, the government should agree to buy the surplus and sell it at an acceptable price on the market so that producers can, at the end of each season, look after themselves and put their children in school - through their work."

The increase in grain prices has already led to similar meetings being held between the different stakeholders in the cities of Bobo-Dioulasso and Koudougou, in the west and midwestern parts of Burkina Faso.


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