Reclaiming the Desert in Burkina Faso

"The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy."  Isaiah 35:1-2

In the past, farmers in Burkina Faso could count on the rainy season to water their crops. Like clockwork, they knew it would begin in June and last through September, and they knew they’d be able to eat and sell the sorghum and beans they’d raised. 

But in more recent years, the once-reliable rains have become increasingly erratic. The farmers’ crops suffered - and so did their livelihoods. In 2017, a food emergency was declared because of the unpredictable rainfall and the resulting droughts. This situation illustrates the injustice of climate change: the countries that are most impacted often contribute least to the issue. Although Burkina Faso has one of the world’s lowest carbon dioxide emissions rates per capita, it is one of the world’s most food-insecure countries

Although the government stepped in to help, some projects led to dependency on aid. These farmers had valuable skills and huge potential to overcome poverty. They just needed to know how to adapt their agricultural techniques to their changing environment.

This is where Tearfund partner, ODE, stepped in. Through their training, farmers in Burkina Faso are reclaiming the desert lands. 

In the 20 villages where ODE is working, they’ve launched sustainable agriculture, environmental protection, livestock breeding, hygiene and sanitation, and literacy trainings. 

For Yasmine, a subsistence farmer in one of these villages, the sustainable agriculture training will lead to a flourishing harvest for her family. Along with 100 others, she learned how to make the most of the limited rainfall. By digging half-moon shaped hollows in the ground around her sorghum plants, Yasmine could encourage more rain to pool and soak into their roots. She also learned techniques for replenishing minerals in the soil and creating organic compost fertilizer. 

In a field school run by Tearfund partner ODE, farmers learn to dig half-moon shaped hollows around their sorghum plants. The hollows have a shallow side facing uphill, and a raised side at the back, capturing enough rainfall as it runs downhill for the crops to grow.  

So far, the results are promising. “We’ve yet to harvest the sorghum,” said Yasmine, “but we’ve already loaded three carts full of beans. The sorghum harvest will feed my family, and we can sell some beans. We’ll start to breed poultry from November, and hope to make some money there too.” 

Yasmine has also shared her knowledge with her neighbor, Bernard, who didn't attend the training sessions. By copying her techniques, his most recent crop has improved.

The practice of digging half-moon shaped trenches was also a huge success in a village that received even less rain than Yasmine’s. One farmer from that village said they’re already planning to repeat the practice next year. “We wouldn’t have believed we could grow anything here,” he said. “But now we have the confidence that we can use any arid ground. We’ll share out the harvest here, and share out the seeds for planting next year.” 

Although there are signs of progress in Burkina Faso, climate change is a global issue. All of us have a responsibility to steward and care for creation through advocacy, prayer, and lifestyle changes. 

When you give $10 a month for one year, you can send four farmers like Yasmine to agricultural training. Through these trainings, farmers can gain the skills they need to thrive in a changing climate. Please give today. 

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