Nelly Bassily | April 16, 2012
Néboun is a village 130 kilometres south of Burkina Faso’s capital city of Ouagadougou. Adamou Nignan is a famous man in Néboun. He is a farmer, the town crier and a jack of all trades at the village dispensary. Yet it is not his activities that make him well-known. It is rather because of what he represents. Mr. Nignan was one of the first victims of land grabbing in this region.
Everyone knows his sad story. Traditional chiefs that manage land took his farm and gave it to a senior official who lives in Ouagadougou. Mr. Adamou remembers, “In 1997, my land was given [away] … without me receiving the least compensation. Nobody cared to know what would become of me.”
That was the beginning of Mr. Nignan’s misfortunes. Now “landless,” he started working at the village dispensary and then became town crier. But his income wasn’t enough to feed his family of five. His wife and children left him. Faced with this tragedy, his father gave him three hectares of land on which he planted mango trees. Mr. Nignan harvested just the minimum needed to live.
Ministers, MPs, senior officials and powerful traders in search of land are abundant in Néboun. These “Sunday farmers” use their prestige to demand large pieces of land. Moussa Nignan is the village chief. He says, “When an important man comes to ask for land, it is an honour for the whole village. To refuse would be an insult!”
Taking advantage of their influence, some politicians have been granted farms of up to 300 hectares by village heads. They promise to use their influence to establish clinics and schools in the villages. But very few keep their promises.
Others prefer to exploit young people greedy for money. In exchange for a few thousand francs, politicians receive large pieces of land. The young people use the money to buy big motorbikes and take other wives.
Ousmane Nignan is the son of Néboun’s chief. He sold eight hectares of family property without the knowledge of his father. He remembers, “I sold 20 hectares for 300,000 FCFA [about $600 U.S]. I wanted to use the money to build a modern cinderblock house. But I have not managed to do so.” Ashamed, he adds, “I used the money to party. I regret it now.”
This unregulated granting and selling of land started in the 2000s following the State’s decision to promote agribusiness. The government invited those with money to invest in agriculture by creating large modern farms. The State hoped this would help achieve short-term food self-sufficiency. But unfortunately, buyers have locked up a lot of farmland. They do not use the land, and small farmers have no access to it.
It is unclear what most of these well-off investors do with their new land. But in Adamou Nignan’s case, the official who took his land actually used it to plant fruit trees and cereals. While many powerful people end up possessing hundreds of hectares of land, this official has only about 10 hectares.
Yacouba Diakité is mayor of the neighbouring town of Leo. To fight against land grabbing, he refuses to prepare documents for land sales over 10 hectares. He also educates chiefs not to sell land. But he faces powerful pressure. He explains, “When you argue for limiting land sales, you take pressure from powerful people. What can one little mayor like me do against them?”
Adamou Nignan also feels powerless. For the time being, landless farmers have nowhere to turn for help. He says he does not know if he will ever recover his land. He says, “My life is shattered. And we are many in this situation. I have agreed to talk about my situation because I hope that maybe my story will get the authorities to respond.”