Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Population, Poverty & SDGs

ENVIRONMENT-BURKINA FASO: Winning People Over to Fight Deforestation

Brahima Ouédraogo

OUAGADOUGOU, Jul 26 2008 (IPS) - In the West African nation of Burkina Faso, millions of trees are planted every year to reverse desertification. However the growing socio-economic needs of local populations pose a constant threat to these efforts.

“People have built homes, marketplaces, places of worship, full cities within our national reserves,” said Salifou Sawadogo, Burkina Faso’s minister of the environment in an interview with IPS.

According to the ministry, 110,000 hectares of forest disappear every year, 75,000 of which go to farming.

“Its difficult to gather the ideal conditions for managing these reserves with such intense human pressure. Its harder still to put together a larger-scale development strategy to safeguard this heritage,” added Sawadogo.

According to a 2007 study by the environment ministry, 60 percent of reserves have been lost to farming and small villages. Moreover, a number of destructive activities such as bushfires, illegal timber cutting, overgrazing and carbonization are rampant.

As a result, there has been a severe environmental degradation, the main waterways are blocked by sedimentation, forested areas are disappearing and the production of timber and non-timber products has slowed.

Oumar Tiemtoré, who oversees sustainable management of forest resources in southwest and southern Burkina, cites the chaotic nature of recent development as the main threat to preserving what little gains have been made.

“There’s a definite lack of personal accountability, because those who come into the forests aren’t the ones who have a stake in protecting the soil’s fertility,” Tiemtoré explains. “They usually want to take advantage of existing conditions, and so move constantly to new plots.”

The government wants to eventually relocate more than 20,000 people. But fear of social consequences of displacement puts these plans on hiatus.

“A number of resources exist in these forests (schools, markets, pastures) and that has to be taken into account in any relocation plan. If we don’t provide an alternative, the people will come back,” explained Ibrahim Lankoandé, director of forestry at the Ministry of the Environment.

However, Moustapha Sarr, general director at Bangréwéogo Park, a recently restored ancestral forest that is considered an “oxygen tank” for the capital Ouagadougou, argues that local populations aren’t the problem.

“The problem lies with those who wanted to manage natural resources without local input,” Sarr told IPS. “They hit a brick wall because local communities have been protecting these areas for years.”

He advocates for a more open management of protected areas. “We have to ensure that there is adequate compensation for resource usage. Do our resources regenerate at the same rate at which we use them? As it stands, the gap between what we take and the forests’ capacity to regenerate themselves is significant.”

In a statement made during a reforestation ceremony last June in Ouagadougo, Burkinabé prime minister Tertius Zongo asked what poor villagers are leaving for their children. “The most important asset that the poor have is land, so we have to make sure that they can preserve it and are also able to feed themselves with it.”

To help replace resources that are being consumed, communities are called upon each year to plant millions of trees. Since 2007, National Tree Month and Operation 65/15 (65,000 trees in 15 minutes) have come together and put government officials, legislators and military personnel to work during the rainy season, planting trees in protected areas.

Nine million trees are planted this way every year. A hopeful Lankoandé explains: “Our initial projections estimated 7 million seedlings, and we reached the 9 million mark. Enthusiasm increases each year. Four years ago, we were planting 3.5 million trees.”

A massive public education campaign is the first strategy set in place to encourage communities to preserve trees. There’s also a reward system for those who have shown the most initiative in protecting forests. Rewards are often in kind, such as agricultural equipment, but sometimes in cash.

“A lot of trees have been planted, but there is still work to be done in maintaining them,” admitted the director of forestry.

“We’ve met our quantitative goals, the next step is to also reach our qualitative goals. We’ll be launching contests in both rural and urban areas, rewarding associations that have made significant contributions to reforestation and improvement of their environment,” added Lankoandé.

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