Burkina Faso: Blindness no obstacle as farmer sees clear path to profits

| October 26, 2015

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Seydou Ilboudo is a farmer like no other. Mr. Ilboudo became a big producer of grains and pulses only during his forties—after he lost his sight!

Now in his sixties, Mr. Ilboudo farms five hectares of land in the village of Loumbila, 15 kilometres from the Burkinabe capital city, Ouagadougou. He cultivates his fields with a traditional hand-held hoe. Assisted by his wife and one labourer, his working days are long and exhausting. His wife says, “It is not easy to work with my husband. We work from dawn to dusk.”

Mr. Ilboudo wasn’t a farmer before he went blind. He began farming after contracting the illness that took his sight. He used to do piecework, collecting a little money for doing small jobs in town. He worked as a labourer or security guard on construction sites. He earned an average of 30,000 West African francs [US$52] per month.

When Mr. Ilboudo began farming, some of his family were openly hostile. They were convinced that he was wasting his time. Five of his grown children refused to help. Only his wife stood by him. Some of his fellow villagers even mocked him, nicknaming him, “the blind fool.”

But the hostility and name-calling were the least of Mr. Ilboudo’s worries. His family’s land was degraded and infertile. Mr. Ilboudo used several methods to restore his land, including stone bunds to prevent further erosion, and lots of organic manure to rebuild soil fertility and structure.

At first, his efforts achieved little. The first harvests were not enough to feed his family. As his wife recalls, they ate all kinds of leaves to avoid starvation. But things improved, and their three granaries are now overflowing.


Photo: Mr. Ilboudo’s field. Credit: Nourou-Dhine Salouka

It is not easy to cultivate by hand without using your eyes. But, for Mr. Ilboudo, zaï is the perfect method. He digs holes thirty centimetres wide and deep and places compost inside the zaï hole before he sows his seeds. As the crops grow, he moves from hole to hole, using his cane to guide him and help him differentiate between crops and weeds.

To feed his family, Mr. Ilboudo grows mainly sorghum and beans. He expects another good harvest this season. The stems of his cereal crops are already bending under the weight of ripening ears. Mr. Ilboudo explains, “I just need to touch the ripening ears to know that the harvest will be good.”

Farming has made Mr. Ilboudo a prosperous man. In 2015, he made a profit of 600,000 West African Francs [US$1,037], and has enrolled the youngest of his six children in school. He earned the money mainly by selling dry-season vegetables.

Today, the family lives well. Mr. Ilboudo also raises poultry and tends to his sheep and goats. His neighbours no longer mock him. In fact, they respect him, and he is a role model for young people in his community.

Issa Ouédraogo is a young vegetable grower. He says, “The old Seydou is an inspiration for us. He has shown us that by working hard we can overcome all difficulties.”

Mr. Ilboudo is proud of his achievements. He says, “I want people with disabilities to stop asking for handouts. It’s only through work that you can restore your dignity and self-respect.”