Burkina Faso’s Family Farmers Shift from Local Growers to Regional Exporters

Women Process Rice grown on irrigated Land in Northern Burkina Faso
Women Process Rice grown on irrigated Land in Northern Burkina Faso

For Bouraima Bouro and his family, hunger seasons will soon be a distant memory. For Césaire Tiama, the bigger house he has long promised his family will soon be on the way and for Fatimata Dossama, business is getting better, and the future is looking brighter.

New irrigation, farmer training, land registration, new roads, and other investments of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s five-year, $480.9 million compact is helping transform parts of Burkina Faso into hubs of agricultural production and commerce—while helping fight poverty in one of the world’s least-developed countries. Three of the compact’s four projects encourage economic growth by addressing problems from several angles. The Agriculture Development Project is bringing irrigation to many fields for the first time and teaching farmers how to grow more crops and raise better livestock. The Rural Land Governance Project is allowing landholders to obtain titles to their property, so they can have the security needed to invest more in their land. And the Roads Project is helping link markets across the country and the region. The compact ends July 31, but its early impact can be told through the eyes of Bouro, Tiama and Dossama, just three of the 1.1 million Burkinabé expected to benefit from the MCC compact over the next 20 years.

 A Bountiful Harvest

Bouraima Bouro has been working the same four-acre farm in the northern commune of Dî for more than three decades. Year after year, his family eked out a marginal life: They grew corn, and the rains—along with a bit of good luck—determined how much food they could eat each year. The hunger season struck in most years. During this time, the family’s food supply would dwindle in the months approaching the harvest. People skipped meals, a common occurrence in a country where 13 million of the 16.5 million people don’t have enough food, and almost one-third of the children are stunted because of inadequate nutrition. Two years ago, through the Agriculture Development Project, irrigation came to Bouro’s land. Bouro now produces a second corn crop, as well as onions and tomatoes. His family’s hunger season has been replaced by a harvest of plenty. “Just one year ago, we didn’t have enough to feed our family,” said Bouro, who lives in a family compound that includes 20 children. “Now everyone eats and we can sell the extra.” The early impact of the project—which has brought new, improved irrigation to 4,300 acres, trained farmers on improved production and soil and water management techniques, and helped establish water-user associations to sustainably manage natural resources—was on full display in March during a market day in Dî. Dozens of merchants stood near large piles of plump, red tomatoes and mesh sacks crammed with onions. Women in bright clothing also sold rice, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and cabbage. Bouro was selling his vegetables to buyers from around the region, especially Ghanaians. He has invested the extra money in school fees for his children and medical fees for his family. He also has purchased fertilizer and will soon buy a cow and tools for his fields. “Life,” he said, “is now much better.”

Security for Investments

Césaire Tiama has been growing rice on his irrigated land outside Niassan village for almost three decades with roughly the same output each year. His last rice harvest, though, doubled in size—and he believes that’s just the start. Compact-funded agricultural extension agents taught Tiama how to get better yields and provided higher-quality rice and tomato seeds. But the most important change, he said, is that he finally has paperwork establishing his right to the land plot he has worked since 1986. “Farmers across the area were not as motivated to work and invest in their land because it could be taken away from them on any day,” he said. “Why invest money when the security is not there?” The rural land certificates demarcate boundaries and provide legal protection. (The government owns all rural land, and the certificates recognize the legitimate rights of people who work the land.) The Burkinabé government expects to issue 2,000 rural land certificates by the time the compact ends in July, and the project has helped set up the institutions needed to issue the certificates across 15 percent of the country. MCC worked with the Government of Burkina Faso to pass a milestone rural land reform law in 2009. The government established rural land commissions to resolve disputes and process land claims, and the law provides for oversight over large land purchases to protect rural residents. For farmers like Tiama, legal recognition of land rights can make a big difference, as it can help them feel more confident in investing in more expensive—but ultimately higher-value—crops like tomatoes, onions and peppers, which they can sell to traders from Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Compact-funded training is also helping farmers grow more staples. Previously, each of Tiama’s acres would produce between 2,600 and 3,500 pounds of rice. With the better seeds and new techniques, he is producing nearly 6,000 pounds of rice per acre, he said. Tiama is using the extra money on better tools and seeds for his farm, as well as a new motorcycle. “And soon, I will have enough money to start building the bigger, better house I have told my family I will build for them,” he said.

 Better Product, More Customers

Once or twice a week, Fatimata Dossama hires a truck to make the daylong trip to Dî, load up on tomatoes and onions and travel back to her market stall in Bobo Dioulasso, the nation’s second-largest city. After she sells the produce, she earns about $150 from each trip. There are closer fields than Dî, she said, but the tomatoes from up north are bigger and brighter, catching the eyes of potential customers—and many of those customers use the roads MCC is helping to improve as part of the compact’s Roads Project. “They come from Côte d’Ivoire and Mali and elsewhere to buy, and they want to buy the produce grown in Dî because it’s much better,” she said. “It’s worth the drive.” During one day in March, Dossama sold her entire lot of tomatoes to merchants from Côte d’Ivoire who traveled across the first MCC-funded road improved through the Incentive Matching Fund for Periodic Maintenance. MCC is matching funds provided by the Burkinabé government to maintain the country’s road network. The Roads Project is also paving 170 miles of primary roads in western Burkina Faso and improving 90 miles of rural roads in the southwest. These road investments will help reduce travel time and vehicle maintenance costs, stimulating commerce at markets throughout the region. Many of Dossama’s customers drive along those roads in the country’s southwest, and she hopes more road improvements will bring in more customers. Dossama and her husband, a fruit trader, support four children and Dossama’s mother. She and her husband hope to re-invest some of the extra income in new businesses, possibly starting fruit and vegetable processing like producing tomato paste. “We have big plans for our future,” she said.