Community members receive new equipment from the IFAD-led NEER-TAMBA project.

Smallholder farmers in Burkina Faso: fighting land degradation from the ground up

In Burkina Faso, the NEER-TAMBA project brings together small-scale farmers and rural communities to address climate change and land degradation through sustainable farming practices.

The droughts in Burkina Faso in the 1970s and 1980s devastated the country via land degradation and desertification. Climate change has only made things worse: lower rainfall and higher temperatures are causing ever-more frequent droughts, which destroy valuable arable land. 

Unsustainable agricultural practices in Burkina Faso have exacerbated the problem: over-farming and overgrazing have turned fertile land into desert-like landscapes. Monoculture agriculture has depleted nutrients in the soil and caused erosion. And between 1992 and 2009, Burkina Faso also saw an alarming rate of deforestation to clear land for agricultural use.

Unsustainable farming practices and land degradation have rendered only around 18% of available land suitable for farming. This poses a dire threat to the country’s food security, and the livelihood of farmers, as smallholder farmers make up 80% of Burkina Faso’s agricultural community.

To reverse this dire situation, Burkina Faso set voluntary targets to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030 through the restoration of 5 million hectares of land. The concept of LDN was introduced at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. In 2015, the LDN target was formally adopted – individual countries must formulate their own targets according to their unique circumstances.

There are significant obstacles that Burkina Faso must overcome to reach neutrality: a lack of technical know-how in the rural communities, lack of awareness of the seriousness of land degradation, and lack of ownership by smallholder farmers of the solutions needed to change things. To address these challenges, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is supporting the Government of Burkina Faso through implementation of the Participatory Natural Resource Management and Rural Development Project (NEER-TAMBA project). 

The NEER-TAMBA project is part of the Resilient Food Systems (RFS) programme and focuses specifically on rural households and smallholder farmers as the most important custodians of arable land. Once local communities become agents for positive change, economic independence will follow, and a sustainable cycle will be created. 

 “The NEER-TAMBA project is a tested experience of applying an integrated approach that contributes to improving resilience and food security for rural communities and ensuring sustainability of interventions,” says Yawo Jonky Tenou, Task Manager of the RFS programme.

Community members attend training workshops to deepen their understanding of good agricultural practices.
Community members attend training workshops to deepen their understanding of good agricultural practices.

The project’s success in facilitating community-led land restoration is the subject of a new RFS knowledge brief. Available in English and French, it shares the project’s successful approaches, encouraging other countries facing similar challenges to integrate lessons learned into their interventions.   

What is working well in Burkina Faso is the way the project is engaging communities to ensure their buy-in in support of the Burkinabe government’s national LDN objectives. 

IFAD is working closely with the National Federation of Naam Groups (FNGN), one of the largest farmer organisations in West Africa. The FNGN supports local farmers by implementing training, education, and work programmes with the aim of developing autonomous, self-sufficient smallholder communities.

Community stakeholders attended workshops to deepen their understanding of the importance of alternative – and more sustainable – agriculture practices. These include techniques for conserving and managing water, applying organic fertilisers and new harvesting methods. To complement the workshops, the FNGN identified and then trained technical experts to become relay farmers, who in turn, transfer their knowledge to farmers and community members.

Relay farmers, or lead farmers, demonstrate good practices to community members. Learning-by-doing approaches allows farmers to practice new techniques in the field.
Relay farmers, or lead farmers, demonstrate good practices to community members. Learning-by-doing approaches allows farmers to practice new techniques in the field.

The FNGN has since facilitated the formation of smaller “community of practice” groups of role players to expand the practice of new sustainable farming methods. The groups were organised according to specific socio-economic activities. For example, one group focused on the protection of sub-watersheds.

These smaller groups of farmers and community members have become an important vehicle for citizen feedback and collective action. Being part of a group also reinforces their legitimacy in the decision-making process and fosters social cohesion. Because the community is involved in the planning and execution of new practices, there is a much greater chance of continuous implementation going forward. And the results speak for themselves: to date, these groups are still working together to achieve the common good. 

The positive outcome is summed up in the words of Sidbewindin Simon Kabore, a rural development engineer and one of the NEER-TAMBA project monitors: “It is necessary to involve all stakeholders of the project. We have a popular saying – a lot of streams make a great river. So, we have to address climate change from many different directions to make a difference.” 

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