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Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities

Submitted by Nitya Jacob 16th December 2022 7:41
Farming in Burkina Faso

Farming in Burkina Faso

Adaptation Options

Burkina Faso’s Sahelian climate is extreme and highly variable and is characterized by a short rainy season from June to October and a long dry season from November to May (González et al., 2011). Prone to strong spatio-temporal variability and irregular rainfall patterns, in some years, deviations in rainfall and the duration of the rainy season of more than 30% have been observed compared to previous years (Hagenlocher, 2013; WB, 2011).

Land degradation is a huge challenge in Burkina Faso. Data from the UNEP-funded Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation (GLASOD) classifies around 40% of national territory as having ‘very severe’ land degradation, rendering Burkina Faso the most affected country in West Africa (FAO, 2007). Globally, desertification costs US$64 billion per annum, or 5% of global agricultural GDP. In Burkina Faso, this phenomenon costs the equivalent of 9% of national agricultural GDP per annum (Jorio, 2013). In addition to land degradation and desertification, a national report identified the erosion of biodiversity, negative climate change impact, and the degradation of water resources as key environmental problems facing Burkina Faso (IMF, 2012).

The pilot project “Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities” is addressing issues around drought in Burkina Faso. It is implemented in six villages in the northern region and aims to improve water availability in crop farms, including during dry periods, and recover degraded lands. It also aims to reduce the impacts of climate change such as floods and droughts.

The project targets specific policies on Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change and the national programme for food security and rural areas. Building on more than 30 years of experience with soil and water conservation actions, the main project activities include restoration of degraded lands, improving soil fertility and efficient management of water and reforestation. All these actions are in line with national policies on natural resource management. The project supports communities to construct a number of measures to improve the conservation of water and soil, including the following.

  • Bunds of stone lines: these are mechanical works composed of stones aligned along the contour lines of the area of land concerned, which reduce water erosion and increase infiltration of water.
  • Filtering dykes: these are mechanical constructions consisting of free stones or gabions built across a ravine, which help recover land that is being degraded by gully erosion and recharge groundwater by enhancing infiltration of water into the soil.
  • Zaï pits: these are holes of approximately 24cm in diameter, 10-15 cm depth, typically spaced 40 cm apart, and filled with organic manure, which improve water infiltration into the soil, particularly on land which has low porosity.
  • Bouli are a type of a pond that collects and stores rainwater and which can recreate an ecosystem favourable to the life of the fauna and the local flora, boosting recharge of water tables during droughts and allowing vegetation to grow even during the dry period.

Practices implemented by this project are mostly locally sourced. Communities were involved in deciding and developing these practices. Vulnerability and capacity assessments were conducted and the communities were able to identify their main hazards and identify local innovations.

Each village has a committee of six members bringing together different social groups (including two women). Working in partnership with research institutions, the project has also introduced innovation through the combination of several technologies on the same plot. Some of the research that relates to the technologies adopted for this project includes:

  • Use of plants (Piliostigma reticulatum) to strengthen bunds;
  • Improving Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) by preserving some species using Zaï pits;
  • Introduction of local species adapted to the area for diverse benefits, including soil protection, shade and soil fertility.

The project has so far contributed to better management of rainwater in cropped areas, which has in turn improved crop yields and reduced degradation in the project sites. The Zaï pits for instance led to doubling of crop yield in the first year compared to other traditional cropping systems. Based on earlier studies, run off is estimated to have been reduced by about 12% with the construction of stone bunds, and soil loss was equally reduced by 45% (Zougmoré et al., 2003).

With the development of filtering dykes, there has been a significant improvement in yields compared to sites without filtering dikes with estimated values, based on prior research, ranging from 60% to 170% in Northern Burkina Faso (Zougmoré and Zida, 2000; MEE, 2001; Zougmoré et al., 2003). There has also been improved water availability during part of the dry season. The villagers estimate that with adoption of the “bouli” technique and these ponds, they have water for two additional months during the dry season.

Knowledge gaps on dryland management in a context of climate change still exist. There is still a challenge in understanding the complexity for which technologies must evolve. This however requires that appropriate research is initiated in these areas. Construction costs can be high and communities lack the necessary financial support for building micro-dams for storage of rainwater. The lack of local skills to build these structures is also an existing gap. There is also lack of knowledge of good practices in storage and water management. At the political level, the focus is on large rainwater storage structures like dams to the detriment of small dams such as “boulis”. However, boulis are much more adapted to the local conditions and solve locally-identified problems. For example, the village of Tibtenga, with 500 inhabitants elected to construct bouli that would be of benefit to their entire community. Scientifically, there are very few studies on “boulis” and their contribution to well-being, particularly local livelihoods.

Among the lessons learnt by the project is that when suitable structures and technologies are put in place in an inclusive manner, results are achieved and felt by all. Technologies developed should also in harmony with the ecosystem and integrated with the community. Accordingly, support to the community for application of these should not only be received in terms of capacity but also materially and financially.

Written by Claire Pedrot, IUCN-EMP and Sylvain Zabre, IUCN Burkina Faso. This article has been sourced from Davies, J., Barchiesi, S., Ogali, C.J., Welling, R., Dalton, J., and P. Laban (2016). Water in drylands: Adapting to scarcity through integrated management. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. 44pp