According to oxfordastronomy, Burkina Faso is an agricultural country. More than 80% of the population live and work in rural areas. Overall, the primary sector (agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry) contributes 30 to 35% of GDP. It is the main source of income in the country.
The agricultural sector has potential, the exploitation of which is hampered by numerous problems:
- unfavorable climatic conditions (including strong dependence on rain, which can only be mitigated by irrigation measures and erosion protection),
- poorly productive soils,
- inadequate cultivation methods and livestock farming techniques of traditional subsistence farming,
- Insufficient management capacities or skills for optimal use of the existing potential.
The cultivation technique (with the Daba = traditional hoe) is largely rudimentary. Tractors and plows – if at all affordable – can often do more harm than good on soils with too thin a humus layer.
If the soils are not adequately protected against erosion, there is a long-term threat of degradation of natural resources. The basis of production is therefore in question as a whole. The somewhat more productive soils in the south, south-west and south-east are intensively used for cotton cultivation with the use of pesticides, which represents further serious problems from an environmental point of view.
Grain and vegetable production
Over 75% of the acreage is used for grain production, which is mainly used for self-sufficiency. In the arid north, the culture of small-grain pearl millet dominates, while in the rest of the country sorghum (large-grain red and white millet) and pearl millet are grown equally. In the Sudano-Guinean vegetation areas rice, maize are also used and tubers (yams, cassava, sweet potatoes) are used. Rice and corn are also increasingly being grown in other parts of the country using irrigation perimeters. Rice production has increased in Burkina Faso in recent years. After sorgho, corn and millet, which are mainly grown for self-sufficiency, rice is now in fourth place among the grains grown in Burkina Faso. However, the producers have difficulties marketing the rice. They are organized in the “Union nationale des étuveuses de riz (UNERIZ)” and the “Soutenir l’émergence et la valorisation de l’économie locale en Afrique (SEVE-Africa)”.
Vegetable cultivation is mainly carried out in the dry season with the use of water from wells, retention basins or rivers. Modern methods such as drip irrigation have increased the yields in recent years.
Other cultures that are used both for food and for export are sesame (the second largest agricultural export product), peanuts, fonio, shea nuts and cashew nuts as well as shea butter for use in the cosmetics industry.
Deficit crop yields remain a food supply risk.
Along with gold, cotton is the main export commodity. Since the closure of the Faso Fani factory (formerly Voltex) in 2000, less than 2.5% of cotton has been processed in its own country. Burkina Faso was actually able to achieve its goal of becoming the second largest cotton-growing country in Africa after Egypt. In 2015 and 2016, Burkina Faso was even the largest cotton exporter in Africa. With an annual export of at least 700,000 tons, Burkina Faso is now the sixth largest exporter in the world. In the 2016/17 season they produced 750,000 tons Cotton. The quality of the cotton has also improved. From 2017, genetically modified seeds will no longer be used, emphasized the Agriculture Minister at a conference in January 2017. However, after a moderate harvest in the 2017 rainy season, Burkina Faso fell behind Mali to second place among Africa’s cotton exporters.
250,000 farming families currently live from cultivation. A total of around two million people work in the cotton sector. Cotton remains the mainstay of the Burkinabe economy.
The reorganization and partial privatization of the cotton sector, which has previously been a monopoly of the sales company “Société burkinabè des Fibers Textiles”, has contributed to this success. SOFITEX contributed. Socoma arose in the east and Faso Coton in the interior.
The producers are organized in the UNPCB (“Union National des Producteur du Coton au Burkina”).
Increasingly, farmers are resisting the annual price dictated by the cotton companies for a kilo of cotton. Despite rising prices on the world market, the farmers are hardly paid any returns (around 12% of the world market price in total). These are immediately absorbed by the expensive purchase of seeds and pesticides. There was a boycott of cultivation and violent clashes that had never been seen before.
Genetically modified cotton – conflict with Monsanto / Bayer
Burkina Faso was the first state in West Africa to allow trials with genetically modified cotton (Bt variant from the US manufacturer Monsanto, which Bayer has now taken over), thereby causing serious uncertainty among farmers. After the first successful test results, the Minister of Agriculture decided to spread the culture of genetically modified cotton from 2007 onwards. This should help reduce production costs.
The NGO CV-OGM / BF, the main opponent of genetically modified cultures in Burkina Faso, tried in vain to prevent the government’s hasty decisions in favor of genetically modified seeds by legal means. The use of the pesticides, which were sold on credit by the three cotton companies, which are harmful to health and the environment, was also disputed. (In January 2012, the cotton sector was supported by international banks with a loan of 50 billion FCFA.) In its 2015 annual campaign, Swissaid denied the success of the new genetic engineering in Burkina Faso and accused agricultural corporations and the USA of using the country to use genetic engineering to have put modified plants under pressure. The critics should be proved right: It turned out that the genetically modified cotton fibers became shorter and were therefore of inferior quality. This even led to sales difficulties. The cotton association demanded the equivalent of 74 million euros as compensation from Monsanto. An agreement was reached in March 2017.
In February 2016 Burkina Faso has decided to complete the genetically engineered Bt cotton variety from 2018 to renounce. This decision is likely to have implications for the cultivation of genetically modified cotton throughout West Africa.
For genetically modified cotton, however, it doesn’t seem to be over yet. SOFITEX is still looking for a collaboration with Bayer in Leverkusen. Apparently they are hoping for a variant that does not shorten fibers.
Cotton as an example of unfair trade
From the perspective of global trade, the Austrian film “Let’s make Money”, which was awarded the German Documentary Film Prize 2009, describes the cotton trade as a symbol of unfair trade.
The semi-state SOFITEX likes to justify the low price paid to the farmers for their harvest with the unjust subsidies to cotton farmers in the USA and Europe.
The cattle breeding is the second most important economic activity of the primary sector. The north is the main area for livestock farming. Traditional migrant livestock farming or transhumance is predominant. The modernization of this sector is not yet very advanced. Cattle and hides are exported, mainly to the Ivory Coast. The estimated animal population is:
- Cattle 8 million
- Sheep, goats 15 million
- Poultry 36 million