Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate, Food and Agriculture, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-BURKINA FASO: Small is Beautiful, But Big Has Its Place

Brahima Ouedraogo

OUAGADOUGOU, Mar 18 2007 (IPS) - An impressive crop of sweet potatoes, yams, cabbages, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes has spelt a good season for Burkinabé farmer Amadou Diallo, who attributes his success to a nearby water storage tank.

“Thanks to the proximity of this water point, we have a turnover of five to six million CFA francs per year (10,000 to 12,000 dollars),” says Diallo, who farms a six hectare plot in Dori, in the north of the country, together with other producers.

“But we could have produced much more if we had several water tanks, since we have land available – men too.”

Over recent years, setting up irrigation systems at village level has been policy in Burkina Faso, thanks to the 1998 creation of a directorate in the Ministry of Agriculture tasked with small-scale irrigation.

The directorate provides small farmers with subsidised supplies and helps them set up water storage tanks, enabling many to have two harvests annually, even though Burkina Faso only has one rainy season.

This Sahelian country of West Africa presently has more than 1,500 water storage tanks, says Issa Martin Bikienga: secretary general of the Inter-State Committee to Fight Drought in the Sahel (Comité permanent inter-Etats de lutte contre la sécheresse dans le Sahel, CILSS).

But the success of this “small is beautiful” approach to irrigation does not mean that Burkina Faso has abandoned large-scale water projects which can support village irrigation (according to Bikienga, Burkina Faso has a long-standing policy of building big dams).

In fact, the biggest dam in the Sahel was inaugurated in Yakouta, in the north of the country, in February – and has been described as “the miracle of the Sahel”. (The Sahel is the region that falls between the Sahara desert and the equatorial area of Africa. It extends across most of the continent, and is a semi-arid region.)

At a cost of more than eight million dollars, the Taiwan-financed dam is 21 kilometres long, with a storage capacity of 26.5 million cubic meters and a surface area of 1,600 hectares.

It will help make up the deficit of dams in the nine CILSS member states, relative to the region as a whole. According to the CILSS, the nine countries of the committee (Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal) only have 20 of the 110 big dams built in the Economic Community of West African States – which comprises 16 nations.

Yakouta will contribute to the irrigation of agricultural land in the region and help with the growth of vegetation that is indispensable in the fight against desertification. The area of Burkina Faso that forms part of the Sahel receives the least rain of all the country’s regions: less than 300 millimetres per year.

“We are doing everything we can to develop water storage policies in our region so as to be able to farm in all seasons, especially when there is no rain,” says Bila Dipama, governor of the Burkinabé Sahel region, which is home to 900,000 inhabitants.

Bikienga says the various water management initiatives that have been under way for several years in Burkina Faso have resulted in “islands of forests in the Sahel” – areas where vegetation has been successfully restored.

He also calls on Sahel countries to unite in stopping the advance of the desert, advising them to draw inspiration from the Burkinabé example in the matter of water management.

For his part, Alain Edouard Traoré, permanent secretary in the National Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development, cites the example of Algeria – which today has areas that are completely covered in greenery, although they are in the heart of the desert.

“Africa has to leave behind the strategy of defensive reforestation, which aims to prevent the desert from advancing, to adopt an offensive strategy – aimed more at creating forests in the desert,” advises Traoré.

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