Burkina Faso | EXPLOREit @ ICRISAT /sites/all/themes/icrisat
Locations   » Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso

Flat, landlocked and arid, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and suffers from frequent droughts, poor soils and desertification. The agriculture sector which employs 85% of the population, is fragile and mostly focused on the cotton industry. The growing population and climate change will make farming even more challenging in the coming decades. Improvements in the cultivation of dryland cereals and grain legumes, as well as more ecological and conservation farming practices, can play a strong role in improving farmers’ livelihoods in this country. 

85% - Share of active population engaged in agriculture in Burkina Faso

+40% - Yield increase in Guinea-race sorghum hybrids compared to local varietiesin Burkina Faso

1.2 million (ha) - Area cultivated to grain legumes in Burkina Faso (20% of total cultivated land)


General context

A landlocked West African country, Burkina Faso is one of the least developed countries in the world. The name Burkina Faso comes from its three main spoken languages, and means “the land of upright people”, to highlight the unity in a multicultural country with more than 60 ethnic groups.​

A relatively flat country with not much rain, most of the Burkinabe territory is made up of drylands. However, the river network is quite dense, especially in the south as Burkina is located in the Volta, Comoe and Niger river basins.

Agriculture is key to Burkina’s economy as it employs over 85% of the active population and represents about 40% of the GDP. However, investments in agriculture are limited as for other sub-Saharan African countries and mostly focus on cotton. Farming is challenging for most Burkinabe farmers, especially in the North and Central regions, where the climate is drier, with a short four-month rainy season between June and September, and rainfall less than 400 mm. Migration is common, from the North to the cities and South West region where farming conditions (Sudanian climate) are better, but also towards the neighbouring countries. Remittances from migrants play a strong role in the rural economy.

Not enough is done to improve smallholder resilience and livelihoods. Despite growth potential in agricultural production and the food industry, the lack of infrastructure, complicated policies and a heavy tax environment restrain private investments. However, a recent ambitious ‘Strategy for Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development’ backed by significant investment in agriculture (14% of GDP) aims at improving farmers’ access to better technologies (improved seeds, inputs, irrigation, etc), better value chains and ensuring strong agricultural growth.

ICRISAT research in Burkina Faso

For years, ICRISAT has been collaborating with Burkina Faso's agricultural research organizations, led by the Environment and Agricultural Research Institute (INERA), focusing on four major themes:

Development economics: Village level studies undertaken in 6 villages in Burkina have helped better understand assets and poverty dynamics and farm risk management and consequently better targeted policies (Lybbert and Carter, 2009). For instance, during a drought or other climate incident, families may not automatically sell assets like livestock in order to maintain their consumption, but possibly the other way around. Families may sharply decrease their consumption - that could lead to dramatic malnutrition - in order to save assets. A recent study assessing poverty dynamics showed that different pathways are associated with different types of cropping systems and soil and water conservation measures. For instance, vegetables and sorghum cropping systems use more fertilizers and water, as well as require soil and water conservation measures (eg stone bunds) compared to millet and cowpea production.

Dryland cereal and grain legume crops research: The development and large-scale adoption of high- yielding, climate- and pest-resilient varieties of dryland cereals and grain legumes is key to boost food security and livelihoods of Burkinabe farmers. It is estimated that no more than 5% of cultivated area of sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut are sown with improved seeds (2011 MIP report).

Sorghum and millet are major staple crops in Burkina Faso. Sorghum is cultivated across more than 1.7 million ha in low input cropping systems. Through collaboration between ICRISAT, Mali and Burkina Faso, Guinea type sorghum hybrids were developed with an average 40% higher on-farm yields compared to best adapted local varieties. Guinea landraces are particularly adapted to the harsh and unpredictable conditions of the sub-Sahelian zone.

Grain legumes are also important food crops in Burkina Faso. They are cultivated each year on about 1.2 million ha, about 20% of the country's estimated 6 million ha of cultivated land. The major grain legumes of Burkina Faso are cowpea, groundnut, Bambara bean, soybean, the first two being the focus of research and development of Tropical Legumes II project. 

Groundnut is grown on more than 410,000 ha. Research collaboration focuses on capacity building (eg, groundnut disease management, hybridization, ELISA testing), releasing modern varieties and seed multiplication.

Farmer participation in crop improvement research is essential to make sure farmer preferences are integrated, and therefore improve adoption of improved varieties. A study on sorghum participatory variety selection trials reveals that crop selection criteria (eg, earliness or grain quality) and its priority ranking can differ significantly between farmers and plant breeders, and also between farmers' groups and gender.

A dynamic genepool management approach with large-scale farmer participatory field testing helps develop new farmer-preferred dryland cereal cultivars, adapted to highly variable climate and specific traits like Striga resistance or tolerance to hard-pan soils. Farmer-managed seed systems combined with marketing approaches (small seed packs, culinary testing, etc) help increase the use of better seeds.

Since most farmers have no access to pest control inputs, and knowing the hazardous practices in cotton production, promoting agroecological practices such as biological control of the millet pest  Heliocheilus albipunctella is a priority research area.

Collaboration between Mali and Burkina Faso to create high-yielding Guinea race sorghum hybrids.
Zai pits and other water and soil conservation practices help farmers cope with the dry and variable climate in Northern Burkina Faso.
Jujube ziziphus tree planted in a half moon. Drought-tolerant fruit trees improve nutrition and farm resilience.
Culinary testing is part of the farmer participatory crop variety trials to ensure that breeding incorporates farmer preferences.