Planting Underway in Burkina Faso

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

FAO Initiative Focuses on Local Production to Offset High Prices

FAO is moving into the final stages of an intensive month-long distribution of millet, sorghum, maize, cowpea and peanut seeds to 33 000 farmers in the regions of Burkina Faso that have been hardest-hit by a devastating combination of soaring food prices and severe weather that has vastly reduced the local food supply.

Prices across the region have been increasing steadily over the past two years, mirroring the outside pressures from international markets.

FAO has just finished one of the last distributions, of nearly 20 tonnes of improved seed varieties and just under 30 tonnes of fertilizers, in the villages surrounding Gourcy, the provincial capital of the arid Centre North region. Recent distributions covered much of the country’s eastern and central zones. In all for the current planting season, about 600 tonnes of improved seed varieties and 432 tonnes of fertilizers have been made available to impoverished farmers in Burkina.

“Last year’s rains began late, and when the rains came, they came in torrents. Crops, food stocks and seed supplies were destroyed, people’s livestock were killed and pasture lands to feed any surviving animals ruined,” said Jean-Pierre Renson, the FAO Emergency Coordinator in Burkina Faso and the acting FAO Representative in the country.

“In the 15 provinces where FAO is distributing seed, under these circumstances less than 10 percent of the food needed will be produced to feed people. We hope to boost that considerably now,” said Mr Renson.

In addition to seeds being provided of the main staple grains, quality vegetable seeds are also being distributed to be planted in the dry season, September-October, to take advantage of planting areas that with irrigation can still produce.

Preventive Measures

FAO is also training local producers in quality seed multiplication, to continuously augment the amount and quality of seed available, as well as to raise crop yields. And in September, Mr Renson said, it is hoped that by using a new strategy, FAO can intervene when there are early indications of hunger.

“Depending on funding, in September FAO would be able to help the women and children coming for treatment at the regional nutrition centres,” Mr Renson said. “FAO can act ahead of time in a sense, in that by giving the women seed packages to bring back to their villages, the local food supply there can be increased where there is hunger,” he explained.

In Burkina Faso, 23 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition. More than 80 percent of the population makes a living in subsistence agriculture, and 45 percent of people live below the poverty line.

A Future in Rice

“In theory, Burkina Faso can be self-sufficient in producing enough of traditional grains to cover its food needs, but severe weather has been ruinous for the last few years,” said FAO Economist Benoist Veillerette.

He said that rice had increasingly become preferred by people living in the urban areas, as it was cheap and easy to cook, though overall it accounts for not more than 15 percent of grain consumption.

“However, now that prices are so high, with about two-thirds of the country’s rice being imported, this is a unique opportunity for farmers to invest in rice farming and improve their livelihoods, rather than struggle in subsistence farming,” Mr Veillerette said.

According to FAO data, in the capital Ouagadougou, rice was 87 percent higher at the beginning of June compared with the same period a year before.

The current FAO response under its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices in Burkina Faso comprises a number of emergency projects worth more than US$2.5 million. FAO has developed an extensive plan to breathe life into national agriculture, in part by leveraging the possibility to produce and profit from rice. The proposal, which would require some US$7.7 million in just the next few seasons, would involve developing water control methods for low-land rice farming around rivers and floodplains.

“Farmers now have a reason to produce rice, whereas before there was no incentive, especially since rice is consumed mainly in the cities,” Mr Renson explained.