COP21: Representatives of farmers from Burkina Faso and Madagascar share knowledge at climate summit

| December 14, 2015

Download this story

The sound of conversation and debate fills the Espace Génération Climat at the COP21 Climate Summit in Le Bourget, in Paris,  France. There are stalls promoting national and international initiatives on climate issues. Farmers and their supporters from across Africa are using the conference to highlight how they are affected by the changing climate—and what they are doing to counter its effects.

The Coalition des organisations de la société civile sur le changement climatique, or COS3C, is attending the conference on behalf of farmers and pastoralists from Burkina Faso. COS3C is a coalition of organizations that support small-scale farmers and pastoralists, environmental activists, and promoters of non-timber forest products.

Charles Dalla is a member of the coalition. He says: “There is a lot of severely degraded land [in Burkina Faso]. People are migrating, which creates more problems. We are here to present our simple techniques for adapting to climate change in rural areas, and to tell people who have little that great results can be achieved.”

The changing climate has led to scarce and erratic rains across Burkina Faso. At their lively stall, demonstrations of how Burkinabe farmers are using different techniques to adapt to the new conditions are under way. Mr. Dalla says, “We are trying to rejuvenate the land so farmers stay put and increase their production. This helps to counter poverty.”

The coalition representatives are demonstrating how farmers dig half-moon trenches. They fill these small, crescent-shaped trenches with organic manure. The trenches capture rainwater and retain it in the soil for longer, countering drought, improving soil fertility, and helping farmers produce better yields.

They are also demonstrating how Burkinabe farmers build stone bunds, or low walls, which meander across their fields. Mr. Dalla explains, “[The bunds reduce or at least slow] rainwater runoff, so that the fields stay wet for a few days after showers. This maintains moisture levels, allowing plants to grow.”

Alain Traoré is another member of the coalition. He wants decision-makers to take meaningful action. He explains: “The small actions we can take are a drop in the ocean … We have the ideas, but we lack the financial means to scale up our work. So, if there is a ‘green fund,’ it would be better to finance local organizations—not always the international ones—since they work directly with the farmers.”

Across the hall, an energetic woman clutches a copy of a newspaper and talks animatedly with visitors to the Bourget Exhibition Centre. Sylvie Razafindrade is the editor of Madagascar Résilience, a free community newspaper which supports farmers on the island.DSC02837

Ms. Razafindrade says: “Madagascar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of flooding and cyclones. The first victims of these disasters are farmers—they lose either their lives or their livelihoods. So we created a medium to share positive experiences in the fight against climate change and in reducing the risk from disasters.”

Because few rural people have spare money to buy a newspaper, Madagascar Résilience is available at no cost. Copies are passed from hand to hand throughout the island’s rural communities.

Ms. Razafindrade explains her paper’s approach: “In Madagascar, farmers have had several good experiences adapting to climate change. But they remained unknown in neighbouring villages because communication is poor. We started this newspaper … to share their ideas. The concept is simple: spread knowledge developed by the communities themselves.”