Nelly Bassily | December 3, 2012
The month of November, as always, was devoted to the harvest in Margo, a village 220 kilometres north of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This year, the harvest looked promising. Across the fields of sorghum, stems bent under the weight of full ears.
Pamaneboumbou Belem is a happy farmer. At the time of the interview, Mr. Belem said proudly, “I’m expecting to harvest at least 16 bags of sorghum.” During the last rainy season, he harvested only three bags. It was not enough for his large family. They ran out of sorghum in just two months.
Alidou Sawadogo is Mr. Belem’s neighbour. He too was satisfied with the growing season. He said: “I think my family will be safe from hunger this year. My millet and bean harvest hasn’t been this abundant in nearly a decade.”
Two things explain the good harvests that Mr. Belem and other farmers expect this year. A combination of exceptional rainfall and effective dryland farming techniques has chased the spectre of famine from the village.
Innocent Rouamba works with the Regional Directorate for Agriculture in the North. He says there are no statistics yet, but he is optimistic the season will be a success.
While they cannot rely on exceptional rainfall every year, farmers in this dry region have learned to better manage the rainfall they do receive. They have been supported over decades by a national federation of farmers’ groups.
During that time, they have mastered the use of zai planting pits and stone contour lines. Both techniques help farmers keep rainwater in the soil where it’s needed. The zai technique consists of digging planting pits. With the stone contour line technique, farmers place stone barriers along the edge of the field, across the slope of the hill. These barriers prevent runoff.
Mr. Belem confirms that, by using of these techniques, his soil has become easier to work. Before, his soil was so hardened that nothing would grow. Now he can even grow maize, a crop that normally requires heavier rainfall.
But no matter how good this year’s harvest, it cannot fully erase memories of gruelling years past. Alidou Sawadogo is a man in his sixties. He recalls with bitterness: “The last agricultural season was a disaster! We hardly harvested anything.” He says that some people his age were forced to return to gold mining, despite the risk of shafts and tunnels collapsing.
This growing season has brought hope. When they were faced with famine, Mr. Sawadogo’s sons moved to the city of Ouahigouya, 40 kilometres away, in search of a better life. The promise of a good harvest this year has drawn Mr. Sawadogo’s sons back to the village to stay with their father.
Mr. Belem says he owes everything to dryland farming methods. If he and other farmers hadn’t used these techniques, he concludes, nobody would be living in the area.