Burkina Faso’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture. Approximately 80% of the country’s 22 million individuals practise small-scale subsistence farming. The country’s agricultural sector accounts for 22% of the country’s GDP. For 2023, the World Bank projects a real economic growth of 4.3% in Burkina Faso, of which agriculture will be a major player.
AGRIFOOD PRODUCTION IN BURKINA FASO
In Burkina Faso, vegetables, fruits, and flowers are notable contributors to agricultural development and poverty reduction. The cultivation of vegetables serves as a significant source of micronutrients that supplement the energy-rich staple grains. This not only helps boost farmers’ income but also contributes to improving food and nutritional security.
The Burkina Faso’s government has pledged to enhance the cultivation of these food crops as part of their strategies to improve food security, tackle unemployment, and combat malnutrition.
Vegetables account for 17% of agricultural production and 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Burkina Faso. They are grown across all regions of the country, with variations from one area to another primarily influenced by the accessibility of land resources and water availability, especially during the dry season.
The drought that accompanies the dry season is also unfavourable to the growth of cash crops. Cashew and cotton are among the two major export crops grown in the country. They are beneficial to both the local farmers and the entire economy.
In 2021, Burkina Faso earned $471 million from its cotton exports, while cashew, coconut and Brazil nut collectively contributed $101 million within the same period. Cotton is the leading agricultural export and is only behind gold in revenue generation nationally. Even though the West African country has lost its place as the largest cotton producer in sub-Saharan Africa, the cash crop continues to make up a significant portion of its GDP, contributing to 6% of its export earnings in 2020.
Burkina Faso’s south-Sudanese agro-climatic zone, which has the longest duration of rainy season in the country, supports the growth of a wide variety of food and cash crops, including grains and cotton. Few crops thrive in the Sahelian zone primarily because of its short rainy season.
How Climatic Factors Affect the Agrifood Sector
Burkina Faso’s harsh natural environment and climate directly impact agro-pastoral production. The country’s semi-arid tropical climate, characterised by low and erratic rainfall and fluctuating weather patterns, presents significant challenges to farmers in the region.
Burkina Faso’s agricultural sector has been experiencing repeated droughts since 1970. In the last decade, mild, moderate and severe droughts in the country have led to a short-term decline of 3.0% and a long-term decline of 3.3% in GDP.
Many of the non-grain food crops and cash crops have a low drought tolerance. Prolonged arid conditions imply that economically viable crops like cotton and cashew will fail to reach their full yield potential.
Another limitation to the development of the agrifood sector is the shallow soil with a limited ability to retain water. The northern Sahel zone experiences a reduced planting season because of its dry climatic conditions as well as its erosion-prone soil type.
These climatic and physical constraints significantly impact Burkina Faso’s agriculture since it heavily relies on rainfed crops. And disruptions within the sector will reduce export earnings and slow economic development.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly warned of increased frequency of extreme weather events, including intense drought in susceptible African regions. Given many countries’ inaction towards the IPCC’s warnings, it is inevitable that many countries will continue to suffer the impact of climate change. This raises concerns about how farmers can adapt to these changes to increase food production.
Opportunities to Improve Agrifood Production in Burkina Faso
Farmers in the country are open to learning about the potentially devastating impact of climate change on agricultural production and identifying appropriate adaptation measures to boost crop yield.
A 2006 study of some farms in 51 districts across the country predicted that a reduced rainfall amount will cause a decline in the income of farming households. This same study suggested that a rise of 1mm in annual rainfall would result in an average increase of US$2.70/ha in agricultural earnings.
Since agriculture in Burkina Faso is vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall patterns, irrigation presents an opportunity to circumvent challenges accompanying inadequate rainfall.
Irrigation is not only a means of adapting to climate change but also positively impacts revenue. It is practised majorly during the dry season and provides additional income to farmers by ensuring continuous food production. However, a region’s hydrological capacity influences the successful implementation of an irrigation system.
Considering the significant benefits of increased precipitation, it is essential to strengthen irrigation systems and develop new ones where necessary.
The local drilling company, Puits de Jacob, has achieved success in this regard. Located in the district of Banfora, the company was founded with the aim of improving access to clean water among the residents but has also spread out its services to include drip irrigation.
Drip irrigation helps to optimise water for farmlands, which is beneficial to sustain precipitation levels throughout the planting season. This system of irrigation has the extra advantage of preventing water wastage.
Between November 2021 to July 2022, the drilling company restored thirty-five green lands, and within this same period, they experienced a rise in revenue of €70,000.
Recently, the Italian organisations Fondazione Aurora and Movimento Shalom collaborated with Banfora’s Organisation Catholique pour le Développement et la Solidarité (OCADES) to advance the activities of Puits de Jacob. This partnership holds much promise for agricultural activities in the region as more farmers will benefit from the company’s expansion.
There is still a need for more players to join the agro-sector in the country.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that one-third of Burkina Faso’s land is degraded and estimated that this degradation will progress by 360,000 hectares per year. The FAO’s efforts towards land restoration and crop production have yielded a revenue of US$31,720 (€28,800).
Burkina Faso is still at risk of severe droughts due to worsening global climate change. However, expanding its irrigation capacity is an important step towards mitigating this risk and boosting revenue. According to a World Bank report on climate-smart investment plans, investment in water resources and irrigation in Burkina Faso will produce the most impact on agricultural productivity by 2050.
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