WEST AFRICA SPECIAL: In Burkina Faso, disappearing rains and new realities

"When they showed us a map of the resources in our village, we realized that we could lose all our forest.”

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KALEMBOULI, Burkina Faso—The people of Kalembouli, a village of about 1,000 people in southern Burkina Faso, have no doubt that weather patterns are changing and that this is taking its toll on their landscapes – and their lives.

They speak of extraordinary windstorms at odd times of the year that fell large trees, and of the increasingly erratic rains that make it difficult to know when to sow their crops.

The village chief, Amadou Lougué, says that the once-predictable heavy mid-April rains – the kangodo – that “washed the village clean” no longer fall.

The Somounouboredo — literally the “rain of the néré” (a crucial tree in the region) — once arrived like clockwork at the beginning of May to signal that it was time to prepare seeds and head into the fields to plant.

But Chief Lougué, says it’s been several years since they’ve seen this crucial second rain of the year.

“It no longer rains enough,” says Awa Boudo, Lougué’s wife. “So the trees that produce foods we rely on to nourish our families — the shea [Vitellaria paradox] and néré [Parkia biglobosa] — no longer produce as they once did.” The trees’ poor productivity is one problem.

According to farmer Minata Ganou the trees are becoming fewer and fewer on and around the farms.

Trees were once abundant in the village fields, but today Minata has just two shea trees left on her farm. With the loss of trees comes more problems.


“The forest is finished and what trees are left are being cut down,” says Awa Boudo. “There is no more firewood for cooking our [porridge made of millet or maize].

“We want help to plant trees, because trees can help us get out of this predicament.”

The predicament she refers to is both compound and complex. Climate change is adversely affecting the forests and trees which the population depends on for food, fuelwood, medicine and a host of other products and ecosystem services, including soil protection and fertility.

Ever-growing demand for ever-fewer of those resources creates a vicious circle, and an urgent need for solutions — techniques, behaviors and policies that will restore tree cover and help populations in the semi-arid Sahel band of West Africa adapt to climate change.

This is precisely the goal of the Forests and Adaptation to Climate Change in West Africa (ACFAO) project, being undertaken by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with partners and communities in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Funded by the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM), the project aims to help people adapt to climate change with solutions based on the many services and products that forest ecosystems provide.

“We have been identifying the different kinds of development activities that are based on tree resources and forests, and then analyzing how to help people adapt and reduce their vulnerability to climate change,” says Mathurin Zida, CIFOR coordinator in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou.


Since 2012, Christophe Koffi, a doctoral student with CIFOR, has been working in Kalembouli and the nearby community in the region of Bale, Sorobouli, to study the link between ecosystem services and food security. His research shows that Kalembouli has lost as much as 70 percent of its forest and tree resources, while in Sorobouli the loss is about 50 percent. (Revealed by forest inventory conducted from October to December 2012).

Today when we cut trees, we make sure we cut only dead ones

Abou Fofana

This difference in degrees of deforestation has shaped strategies that women have used to make it through the “lean season”, the time of year in the Sahel of West Africa when stored cereal stocks run low, and the next harvest is still weeks away.

During these periods of hardship, women seek sources of income so that they can buy food for their families, particularly in the most vulnerable households that have the least amount of land and livestock. In Sorobouli, where women had access to more tree resources, Koffi found there was a strong correlation between the lean season and the selling of firewood.

That is, when money was desperately needed the women turned to collecting and selling any bits of firewood they could find.

However, in Kalembouli, where trees that can be cut for firewood have become scarce, the women turned instead to non-wood forest products, processing shea nuts into butter and néré into soumbala, (a condiment) and to be sold so cereal could be bought for the family.

But …processing the shea and néré requires firewood; the women had to buy it.

“Trees and forests strongly influence coping mechanisms that people adopt to ensure food security in the face of climate change and climate hardship,” says Koffi. “And our research is really helping the population. It helps them realize that the degradation of their forest reduces their ability to generate additional income for the household, which can have serious consequences on the food security, especially among the poorest households during the lean season.”

Sorobouli farmer, Abou Fofana, says that at first people didn’t want to listen to the researchers or hear about the work they were doing.

“But when they showed us a map of the resources in our village, we realized that we could lose all our forest,” he says. “Today when we cut trees, we make sure we cut only dead ones.”


Following the field studies, the CIFOR research team arranged exchange visits for community members to sites in central Burkina Faso, where a range of measures to reverse land degradation and deforestation have already been implemented.

These include assisted natural regeneration and tree planting inside enclosures, and improved cooking stoves that reduce firewood consumption by more than half over more traditional three-stone hearths.

“We may not be able to re-green the whole village of Kalembouli,” says CIFOR’s Koffi. “But it is urgent to do something, to create wooded zones, which the population will take charge of to reduce poverty and food security.”

After his exchange visit, Amadou Lougue returned home to Kalembouli determined to work on these solutions; to bring back the forest that he remembers from his childhood, for the sake of his own children and grand-children.

“It has to get better,” he says. “If it doesn’t, where will our children’s children go? How will they feed their families? We need these solutions now.”

For more information about this research, please contact Mathurin Zida: M.Zida@cgiar.org

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