Burkina Faso: Young graduates turn to farming

| July 17, 2017

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Jean Pascal Simporé is a man who loves challenges. After finishing school, he found it hard to find a job in his chosen field of public administration. So Mr. Simporé turned to farming.

He doesn’t see his “return to the earth” as a failure. Quite the contrary! He says, “I have always been passionate about agriculture. I am convinced that this is a promising sector.”

For the last three years, he has grown organic groundnuts on his three-hectare farm. He sells his produce to local processors, who transform the nuts into peanut butter to sell in local markets.

Growing organic groundnuts is not very lucrative, but the young entrepreneur still manages to make a small profit. Mr. Simporé says, “This year, I managed to grow about three tonnes of groundnuts, from which I made a profit of about 300,000 [West African] francs [US$500].”

Mr. Simporé admits that his earnings are much lower that he’d like. He farms only during the three months of the rainy season, and hires two seasonal labourers. To expand his business, he would need to diversify and operate year-round. He says, “My current activity is dependent on the rainy season. This is a serious handicap to developing my business. This is why I am planning to fatten cattle in the coming years.”

Like Mr. Simporé, many other young people have become agricultural entrepreneurs. Seydou Ouédraogo has been growing maize for the last ten years, and also fattens cattle. Venturing into farming was a natural step for Mr. Ouédraogo. He explains, “I worked on my parents’ farm when I was a child. I knew that after I finished high school, I would go back to farming.”

Mr. Ouédraogo wants to graduate from subsistence farming and start making a profit. He believes that this goal is within his grasp. He explains, “I am not earning a significant amount yet, but I am not envious of my friends in the public service.”

While many young entrepreneurs are doing well, they face a number of challenges. They have to pay operating expenses, they must ensure the farm is well managed, and they must find a good market. Mr. Simporé says, “The entrepreneur has to know everything, and it is thoroughly time-consuming.”

Poor access to credit and inflexible policies also hamper entrepreneurs. To fight for their interests, young entrepreneurs have created a national federation.

Jules Zongo is the general secretary of the Fédération nationale des jeunes professionnels agricoles du Faso, an agricultural advocacy group. The group has documented a whole list of problems to be addressed. Mr. Zongo says, “We need the state to harmonize policies which concern farmers. Currently, there are three or four [which are inconsistent].”

He is urging authorities to introduce financing arrangements which are more suitable for farmers. He explains, “There is not a single agricultural bank in Burkina. Commercial banks require guarantees that we cannot meet.”

The federation is also calling for policy changes that give young farmers better access to land.

Despite the obstacles, none of the young farmers regrets pursuing agriculture. Mr. Simporé says, “I am convinced that, with a little technical and financial support, my business will prosper. Farming is my destiny.”

This story was originally published in January 2016.