Women in Burkina Faso cannot inherit land or have their own water wells. Yet, they represent the vast majority of the agricultural workforce in the country. In the Drops4Crops project of the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW programme, a public-private partnership is working to empower women farmers. They reduce water use and improve their incomes through land lease and good agricultural practices.
"I have levelled my plot and added organic matter to the soil. This helps onions and potatoes grow," says Marietou Sana. She is one of the women that now has the right to a plot of land. She grows food crops near her home in a village just north of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Over the years, she has established herself as a fully-fledged farmer. "I plough, sow, shovel, water the plants, spray biopesticide, harvest, store the crops and bring them to the market," she explains.
As part of the Drops4Crops project, Marietou participated in a training course about farming and irrigation techniques. "I know that in other countries, onion yields are 90 to 100 tonnes per hectare. I firmly believe that, with our new irrigation system, capacity building improvements, technical support and advice and, above all, the availability of land, we will be able to achieve these numbers too and become a model for my colleagues in other regions."
The rainy season in Burkina Faso is short, and locations for agriculture are limited. Smallholder farmers do most agriculture on plots of a few hectares. Getting sufficient income from this is difficult, with little opportunity to elevate out of poverty. One way out of this vicious circle is for farmers to join cooperations and jointly invest in developing their plots and the agri-food system. One such cooperation is the Association Professionell des Maraichers du Yantenga (ASMPY). This cooperation negotiated with landowners and drew up 10-year lease contracts for local communities. In contrast to customary land tenure systems, women and youth gained land rights. In Burkina Faso, many women and young people work in the agricultural sector but not as entrepreneurs.
Marietou is thankful for the opportunity to exploit her plot. "It is an exciting activity for me. I am proud to contribute to my community and family. This activity allows me to be independent and contribute to my family's expenses. Moreover, it allows me to take part in family decisions."
The provision of an irrigation system boosted the women farmers' productivity during the dry season. New wells allowed for the expansion of the whole agricultural area. Also, micro-sprinkler strips have replaced the existing gravity irrigation channels. According to Marietou, this enhanced irrigation system increases the soil's humidity depth. "I no longer have to carry buckets to water the crops. This gives me more time to spend on other things, such as raising hedges that reduce wind speed and evapotranspiration from the plot." Accordingly, the water efficiency on her plot rose from 2 to 4.75 kilos of crop per cubic meter of water.
Marietou enjoys being self-employed, "I joined a training course on good agricultural practices. This has allowed me to grow more crops on my plot and raise my income. Hopefully, Drops4Crops will extend the project." She adds, "It would allow us to expand our production areas further and increase our operating capacity. It would make us more autonomous, and we could become better agricultural entrepreneurs."
The project brought her financial independence, autonomy and more dignity. And it does not stop at that. Women in Burkina Faso cannot inherit the land and have their own water wells. Marietou believes this project is vital for developing all women in her country. "We have a responsibility here, especially for girls. I dream of seeing all these challenges taken up," she says passionately.
Mahamady Ouedraogo is the coordinator of the Drops4Corps project. He works for the farmer cooperation ASPMY. He welcomes the inclusion of women in land management. "Women represent nearly 80 per cent of the agricultural workforce in Burkina Faso. They have an important role to play in the future development of our country." Statistics on crop yield show that the plots run by women produce more onions and potatoes than plots run by men.
Some women-led plots yield 30 tonnes per hectare. What explains this difference? Mahamady knows the answer, "They work in small areas with an enormous drive and diligence. As a result, they generally apply good production practices in water management, sufficiently apply compost, and ensure the maintenance and regular monitoring".
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