Agriculture in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa. Like other countries in the Sahel region, is prone to drought and floods. These climate-related events threaten livelihoods and food security, especially as the country's smallholder farmers rely mostly on the rains to produce staple grains and cash crops such as cotton, and raise livestock.
Formerly known as Upper Volta, Burkina Faso is a relatively flat land-locked savannah country which, despite significant mineral deposits, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It is bordered by Mali to the North, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana to the south, and Benin and Niger to the east. Burkina's climate is classed as tropical with two distinct seasons - one wet and one dry - but rainfall is often poor, averaging between 600 and 900mm, and generally much less than this in the arid north. Temperatures often exceed 40°C. Long dry season lasts usually from November to May. Despite the harsh climate, its economy is largely agricultural; 86% of the population is involved in it and this sector represents 30 to 40% of the GDP. Agriculture production is generally characterized by low crop and livestock productivity and mainly supports subsistence livelihoods. Subsistence predominates with cultivation occurring during the rainy season. Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and maize (Zea mays) are the major staple food crops and are grown on about 80% of the arable land area.
The progression of croplands across Burkina Faso during the last four decades has replaced natural landscapes with crop fields and fallows. The only natural landscapes of significant size are restricted to protected areas, and these now stand in sharp contrast against the dominant surrounding agricultural landscape. Tree and wooded savannas and the gallery forests of the Sudanian zone have been heavily altered to make room for rainfed crops.
Soils in Burkina Faso are characterized by their advanced degree of weathering, poor physical structure, low contents of active clay and organic matter, and low nutrient stocks, imposing severe constraints to crop yields. Thus, agricultural productivity is low (farming is practiced extensively on soils that receive small amounts of rainfall and only a small amount of nutrient inputs).
Tillage and seedbed preparation are carried out by plowing or scarifying. Plowing (10-15 cm soil depth) is done using animal traction (with moldboard plow) and reduced tillage to 5-cm depth is performed on wet soil with a "Manga" hoe or hand hoe. These techniques of cultivation are recommended for the south-Sudanese zone (average annual rainfall = 900 mm), the sub-Sahelian zone (400-600 mm) and the North-Sudanian zone (600-900 mm). Cropping systems in Burkina Faso change greatly from one region to another in relation to agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions. Only rice, sugar cane, vegetable and fruit crops are irrigated. Increases in crop production have largely come more from extensification (i.e. increase of area) than from intensification (i.e. increased use of inputs and improved varieties).
To cope with rainfall unpredictability, poor soil quality, insufficient labour availability, or lack of appropriate plowing equipment, most farmers practice direct planting. At harvest, crop residues are often removed to be used for feed, fuel or building materials. When left on the soil, crop residues are grazed by livestock or burned to clean soil for the next season.
Diverse soil and water conservation technologies (for example, stones rows, zaï, half moon, earth bunds, and grass strips) are used in regions with high climatic risks, especially in the central and northern parts of the country.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy but lack of work contributes to high levels of migration with more than three million Burkinabe currently living and working in Côte d'Ivoire. Remittances sent home provide valuable household income for many families.
The agricultural sector is dominated by small-scale farms of less than 5 hectares and its main products are sorghum, millet and maize (the most produced in terms of volume), groundnuts and cotton (the most important in terms of value).
Cotton - known locally as white gold - that is most important, accounting for over a third of the country's exports. About three million people, mainly subsistence farmers, depend on cotton production for their income whilst a further three million are involved in the industry. The quality of Burkina Faso seed cotton is very high. Over 80 percent of the production is made up of a boll type that matches the world’s highest standards. Burkina Faso, , is one of the top African cotton producers , with Côte d’Ivoire (455,000 tonnes), Mali (653,000 tonnes) and Benin (675,000 tonnes). In the crop year 2020/2021, the production of cotton in Burkina Faso stood at around 915 thousand bales.
Livestock is mostly kept by nomads. Sugarcane has been introduced on a large scale and has also become a significant cash crop, while cassava, sweet potatoes and tobacco also generate noteworthy income.