Environment in Burkina Faso Essay

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Burk ina Faso i s a landlocked country in West Africa, north of Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, formerly known as Haute Volta (Upper Volta). Despite its relative international obscurity, it is known for three things: its people, particularly its rural population’s struggle against poverty in a sometimes harsh and unyielding physical milieu; a legacy of recent political populism; and the presence of extensive and sometimes innovative international development assistance. Most of the country lies in the Sahelian and Sudano-Sahelian climatic zone. It is wetter and thus more productive in the south than the north, where rainfed cropping gives way to herding. A unimodal rainfall pattern allows the cultivation of dryland crops, particularly millet and sorghum, on ferruginous and sandy soils in summer. Sugar and cotton are also grown, primarily in the wetter southwest.

Population growth is rapid in Burkina (to approximately 13 million in 2006), and parts of the rural hinterland have median densities (50 persons/square kilometer) and intensive cultivation systems. Some 90% are primarily engaged in subsistence farming or herding, and urban growth is concentrated in Ouagadougou (the capital) and Bobo-Dioulassou. The primary exports, gold, cotton, and livestock, are vulnerable to price fluctuations. The country lacks reserves of natural resources and imports its fuel, some food, and other essentials. It is one of the world’s poorest five countries with a Gross National Income per capita of approximately $350 per year.

History of the Region

This region was occupied by hunter-gathers for at least 12,000 years, and was first farmed 5,000 years ago. The Mossi people, warrior-farmers from northern Ghana, conquered and intermingled with indigenous inhabitants since at least the 1400s, establishing several kingdoms. Several other ethnic groups are found in the west, and Fulani herders to the north. Burkina became a colony of France in 1896, and through several colonial configurations, the administration used forced and voluntary labor for work on plantations and other projects across its regional territories, because other economic options were so limited. The country achieved independence peacefully in 1960.

From 1983-87, Burkina was led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, one of Africa’s most charismatic leaders. Sankara challenged gender inequality, nepotism, the power of chiefs and pervasive post-colonial domination by France, and launched major campaigns to provide rural health care and infrastructure. Blaise Compaore, who has ruled since 1987 before and after national elections, has overseen the embrace of neoliberalism, privatization, and less-discriminate aid flows. Decentralization is also being pursued.

Despite persistent drought, Burkina’s farmers are masters of their milieu. They have adapted to climatic uncertainties through intensive micro-management of soil, water, labor, and crop varieties. Unpredictable conditions means livelihood diversification is the norm: the “bricolage” of locally-based and more distant activities, the latter including a significant economic migration stream to the West African coast and beyond. Migration to the plantation and urban economy of Cote D’Ivoire has traditionally been huge, but has fallen since 2001 with the xenophobia that preceded civil war in that country.

 Major famines across the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s were sparked by a succession of poor rainy seasons, and magnified by poor institutional capacity. Strong international humanitarian support to Burkina dates from this period. It has included numerous bilateral and nongovernmental programs, including assistance for health, food security, and sustainable production. For example, there has been great innovation in soil and water conservation supported by Oxfam, GTZ, Six-S and other organizations. Semi-permeable rock bunds (walls), built by locals across contours in hundreds of communities, captured summer rains on slopes and increased infiltration rates and crop yields. This “miracle” conservation strategy attracted international attention and support, because its success depended on a combination of appropriate technology, Sankariste local communitarianism, and social cohesiveness among Mossi and other peoples.


  1. P. Englebert, Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa (Westview Press, 1999);
  2. L. Engberg-Pedersen, Endangering Development: Politics, Projects and Environment in Burkina Faso (Westport, CN & London: Praeger, 2003);
  3. Hagberg, Poverty in Burkina Faso: Representations and Realities, (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2002);
  4. Jeune Afrique, 2001 Burkina Faso Atlas. (Paris: Editions Jeune Afrique).

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