When I visited Naniagara the first time in late October 2009 the rainy season was still in full swing. The rain had come late that year, making it difficult for the farmers to grow their crop. According to the farmers the rainy season had become increasingly unpredictable in recent years. The late onset of the rain meant that overall less rain fell as the duration of and total precipitation during the main rainy season depends on the date the monsoon starts. Several studies show that the West Africa region including Burkina Faso is subject to a continuous rainfall deficit that began in the early 1970’s. Climate change in Burkina Faso has led to an increase in temperatures, increased frequency and severity of extreme weather phenomena and a general decrease in rainfall. This new trend in weather patterns is expected to have serious consequences for both food security and the national economy.
Sory Pande Karidja was one of the first farmers in Burkina Faso growing organic cotton. When she started other farmers blamed her for not using chemical pesticides. They feared that pests from her fields might destroy their own ones thus hurting the community. Over the years though this attitude changed when her neighbors realized this wasn’t the case and Sory‘s cotton was making more profit than the conventional one. Gradually many changed to organic farming. This enabled them not only to increase their income but also to improve soil fertility, their health and food security. Growing organic is much more profitable than conventional cotton, even though the organic yield is lower on average. While conventional farmers average 1,100kg/ha, organic farmers only get about 675kg/ha on average with only the best ones reaching about 1000kg/ha. But as organic cotton realizes a higher price on the market, 272 CFA/kg instead of 165 CFA/kg, the gross profit per hectare is nearly identical in organic and conventional farms. Because organic farmers spend about 90% less on inputs, as they don’t have to buy commercial fertilizer and pesticides, their gross margin is about 30% better than for conventional farmers. The lower input prices also reduce the risk of running into debt, which many conventional farmers struggle from. And because no synthetic and poisonous chemicals are used even pregnant women can grow cotton without endangering their children. Thus organic cotton became known as a women’s crop.
Besides organic cotton Sory Pande Karidja and her husband grow a variety of vegetables, groundnuts, sesame, cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum and a lot of sweet corn. Most of the time their land provides enough food to survive on a diet of Tô, the traditional polenta-style cakes made from millet, sorghum or corn and served with a delicious vegetable sauce. Often this basic diet is supplemented with an egg and from time to time with chicken, mutton, goat or fish. Although Sory Pande Karidja and her family are relatively poor, they are much better of than many people in rural Burkina Faso. While soil quality is poor in most parts of Burkina Faso and water is scarce, the region they live in is one of the more fertile areas with mostly sufficient rain.
Sory Pande Karidja is the president of the women association in Naniagara. She was one of the first organic cotton farmers in Burkina Faso. Before farming organic she didn’t grow any cotton because conventional cotton requires a lot of chemical pesticides. As the chemicals are especially dangerous for pregnant women and their children, women normally don’t grow their own cotton. With cotton being the major cash crop most women weren’t able to earn money of their own and instead depend on their husband for cash. When organic cotton production was first introduced by aid organizations in Burkina Faso, mainly women tried it, realizing a chance to become more independent. Male farmers on the other hand often stayed with the conventional cotton, because they feared reduced yield without synthetic fertilizers.