Agriculture in Burkina Faso
29 July 2019

Drip Irrigation and Agroecological Farming in Burkina Faso

In the past two decades Burkina Faso has seen a sharp expansion of small-scale irrigated vegetable production. An article by Basile Gross and Ronald Jaubert in Water Alternatives studies this evolution and concludes that the new technologies of drip irrigation or agroecological gardening currently promoted by development projects can be adopted only by a very small number of family farms. Professor Jaubert gives more explanations:

Could you present the development of small-scale irrigated vegetable production?

Drawing on Basile Gross’s research on the dynamics of small-scale, family-farm irrigated vegetable production in Burkina Faso, the paper provides a very detailed analysis of family farms’ strategies with regard to vegetable production in relation to the large diversity of family farms and their livelihoods strategies. Small-scale irrigated vegetable production has significantly expanded in Burkina Faso and more generally in Sahelian countries. Family-farm vegetable production has become a focus of development projects. Two models are proposed: conventional agriculture, largely dominated in Burkina Faso by drip irrigation associated to the use of chemical inputs, and, to a lesser extent, agroecological farming. 

You conclude that both models can be adopted only by very few family farms. Why is that so?

Several studies have shown the limited impact of drip irrigation projects. Interestingly, agroecological farming projects do not do any better. Although the two approaches are technically radically different, the programmes that implement them share a similar structure: they are designed by foreign organisations and their technical solutions are predefined without taking into account the diversity and specificities of family farms.

Hence your recommendation that development organisations and public policies consider this diversity and adapt accordingly to farming families’ needs and capacities. But is it feasible – and how?

There is a clear need to reconsider the technocratic  project approach in order to allow much more flexibility to adapt to the actual needs and capacities of family farms. The first step is to better understand the diversity of situations and strategies. In this respect, farmer organisations could play a significant role in developing strategies based on the actual needs of their members. Is it feasible? Yes, through a profound reform of aid rules and practices. 

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Full citation of the article:
Gross, Basile, and Ronald Jaubert. “Vegetable Gardening in Burkina Faso: Drip Irrigation, Agroecological Farming and the Diversity of Smallholders.” Water Alternatives 12, no. 1 (2019): 46–67.

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Interview by Marc Galvin and editing by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Banner image by Basile Gross.