Shireen Chambers FICFor, ICF Executive Director, visited Burkina Faso in her capacity as Chair of TreeAid. Shireen reports on her visit.
My first visit to west central Africa didn’t have a promising start, with a cancelled flight in snowbound Paris, but a few moments in Ouagadougou’s 38°C heat dispelled all memories of a European winter. The capital of land locked Burkina Faso is home to 1.8 million people, a tenth of the country’s population and like the rest of Africa, the youthfulness of its population is striking. Dry season is the time to travel so we set off to the north of the country to look at two projects where TreeAid is really making a difference to people’s lives. The Burkina staff are enthusiastic and passionate foresters and agronomists who clearly love their job. Their English being much better than my French, they also acted as very capable translators.
We first looked at a dry lands project in Bassi, funded by the World Agroforestry Centre, where degraded land is replanted and regenerated using boulis (man-made reservoirs) to hold water enabling households to change from subsistence farming and emergency aid to sustainable rural development. Although water is currently absent due to the season, the difference in vegetation on one side of the gabion dam to the other was obvious. The main species planted was Piliostigma reticulatum which is put to multiple use: the leaves are mixed with millet for food, the oil from the fruit can be used to make soap and the fruit pulp feeds the animals. As with a number of TreeAid projects the women are targeted to ensure success in the value-added chain. During the long drive north I saw how nearly every tree that remained in the deforested landscape had been ‘pruned’ or coppiced to produce wood. Timber, as well as handmade bricks, is needed for construction and wood used extensively as fuel. Add to this the sheer number of goats and it’s hard to see how any tree survives here.
Next we headed southwest to the commune of La-toden where TreeAid has been working with the Swedish International Development Agency since 2012 to decentralise forest management and put it in the hands of local communities. What a welcome we received! The women sang, the men made sincere speeches and we left with one live goat and two dead chickens. The success of the project was evident, not least in the carefully protected baobab seedlings regenerating for the first time, or the pride of the new forest guards in their smart uniforms and TreeAid bicycles. But the highlight to me was to be shown the new Shea Butter Processing Plant, run by a women’s cooperative, which clearly gave them economic clout and a stronger voice in the village.
TreeAid has successfully worked in sub-Saharan Africa for three decades now earning the respect of local people and large aid agencies alike. As foresters we know that if the forests are protected the water and soils needed for agriculture will also thrive but it has taken a while for government agencies and NGOs here to learn this. I came to Burkina Faso expecting land use issues to be so very different to the UK, but perhaps our problems are not so dissimilar after all.