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Q&A: Burkina Faso Moving Towards Food Security

Brahima Ouédraogo interviews ALPHONSE BONOU, permanent secretary for agricultural policy in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU, Jul 18 2009 (IPS) - Burkina Faso was one of several countries that where a rapid rise in food prices led to rioting in the streets in 2008. Policy-makers had sensed a crisis developing, but the country was not able to build up sufficient reserves of imported commodities such as rice, wheat and oil to avoid it. There is now an emphasis on achieving food security.

Bonou tells IPS that Burkina Faso is one of the handful of countries respecting the Maputo commitment to spending at least ten percent of its budget on agriculture.

A ten-year old programme of building small dams to support irrigation has continued, and production of improved seed has been reinforced.

Government is also supplying producers with free seed as well as heavily subsidised fertiliser, tractors and pumps for irrigation.

IPS: How much has it cost to invest in increasing agricultural production? Alphonse Bonou: Last year’s investment in tractors and pumps cost 15 billion CFA francs (about $30 million). Seed came to 6.5 billion CFA francs (approximately $13 million) and fertiliser 10 billion CFA francs (approximately $20 million).

This year, we will not be committing the same budget because seed has been produced by the National Seed Union of Burkina Faso. But with fertiliser, the quantities distributed will go up and the price too, though slightly.

IPS: So because of the crisis, the state, which had pulled out of seed production, came back into the fray! AB: The state has always invested in seed production. But since the advent of structural adjustment programmes, seed production is meant to be transferred to the private sector. However, the state maintained 17 seed farms, however these farms could not produce all the seed needed, given the area under consideration.

Each year, with our support and the support of research, farmers make preparations to produce the correct quantity of seed needed. This is why in 2004, we pushed for the creation of the National Seed Union of Burkina Faso, which plays an important role in the production of seed.

Most importantly, today everyone knows that improved seed quality can contribute 40 percent to the yield and performance of each crop. Other factors make up the remaining 60 percent (farming and irrigation methods).

We have established seed farms and provided land for seed-producing initiatives. Each year there is an expected harvest of 6,000 tonnes: last year, there were 10,000 tonnes and we are expecting 15,000 tonnes this season.

IPS: Could Burkina Faso one day reach food self-sufficiency? AB: Actually, we’re already there, we just need an organisation to improve the management of small-holders’ harvest, where forecasts are not always available. After the harvest, everyone just wants to rest and attend to things like funerals. With such a long break (there is only one rainy season, the three months from July-September), it is difficult to make any predictions.

As a result, grain stores are not integrated into a properly managed distribution channel. This is why we need regulation to help small producers.

IPS: What are you doing to ensure producers can work all year long without waiting for the rain? AB: Irrigation is an important part of our agricultural policy, because with our climate (700 – 1200mm of rain each year in Burkina Faso), if everything hinged on the rain falling, nothing would go as planned if the rainy season wasn’t good. So some free time must be used (for farmers) to get back into production – which cannot be done without proper water management.

It is expected that irrigated agriculture will increasingly become more important than rain-fed agriculture as we move towards a new cycle of producing three times a year in areas where water can permanently be supplied.

We want to mirror the example of Israel, where people work only when they want to work. Right now we have 30,000 hectares of irrigated land and we want to take this to 500,000 hectares.

IPS: Is Burkina Faso presently respecting the 2003 Maputo declaration’s call to invest 10 percent of the budget in agriculture, in order to increase agricultural production and attain food self-sufficiency within five or six years? AB: Before 2003, the country invested heavily in agriculture, taking into account external aid. After 2003, Burkina Faso became stronger and now invests 15 percent of the national budget. I believe that Burkina Faso is a leader in terms of volume and is second-placed regarding yield, after Malawi.

IPS: Will the new land law not deprive small farmers of land, especially women? AB: The land and agrarian reorganisation bill of 1989 stated that the land belonged to the State, but the new law significantly takes women into account because it says that 25 percent of communally-owned land should be placed under the ownership of women, either as individuals or associations.

Women are also able to compete for the remaining 75 percent. But on the (reserved) 25 percent , no men will have access.

IPS: Will small producers in Burkina be protected by agribusiness, an element identified as necessary in recent years? AB: Let me point out that agribusiness does not refer to large farms. I went to Israel, where, from one quarter of a hectare, people have a yield of 100 tonnes of tomatoes. They make agribusiness work because they have a market and make money.

Here, the concern is that people will be working with large plots. But this is not the case. All our efforts will help all producers, and we will do everything to make sure they have the inputs and are able to freely access the land.

The law which has just been adopted says: the owner of each plot of land in the rural areas will be given a certificate of ownership of land. A lease, valid for up to 99 years, will be given to everyone. The state will maintain control of major facilities and large forests. Medium-sized facilities and forests will be registered in the name of municipalities. The private sector will be given land as well as land titles, as a way of adding value to the land.

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