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Improving Farmers’ Lot by Optimizing the Supply Chain in Burkina Faso

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  • Agriculture accounts for 40 percent of GDP and 86 percent of jobs in Burkina Faso
  • Cotton remains the top export item, but overreliance on a single cash crop makes farmers vulnerable to price fluctuations on the world market
  • A World Bank-funded project tries to improve farmers’ lot by diversifying the agricultural sector, improving infrastructure, and optimizing the production chain

OUAGADOUGOU, June 8, 2009—As you drive along Burkina Faso roads between March and September, you cannot help but notice trees laden with ripe, juicy mangoes. But, while approximately 120,000 tons of these mangoes are produced across the country each year, the fruit very often ends up on the ground rather than on the dining tables of West Africa or Europe.

“You can eat mangoes everywhere but they are not monetized for development,” said Atamana Bernard Dabiré, coordinator for the Agricultural Diversification and Market Development Project (Projet d’Appui aux Filières Agro-Sylvo-Pastorales, PAFASP), a new project that has received US$66 million in financing from the World Bank.

The project aims to develop the supply chain and adapt products for international markets, with a view to diversifying the agricultural economy.

At present, 40 percent of GNP and 86 percent of jobs and income in Burkina Faso are generated by agriculture. But almost all farmers produce the same varieties of crops, primarily for subsistence, and cotton is still the only income-generating crop produced for export. The fact that most producers depend on one cash crop puts them at the mercy of price fluctuations on the world market.

Between 2002 and 2004, European demand for mangoes increased by 28 percent, moving from 134,716 to 174,357 tons, but Burkina Faso exports a dismal 900 tons to the European marketa mere 0.05 percent of the continent’s demand.

One of the obstacles is that the main variety of mango produced in Burkina Faso, “Amélie,” is not well liked in Europe. In contrast, another local variety, “Kent,” is preferred because of its rosier skin.

“This situation is about to change,” said Dabiré. “In the Cascades region the orchards are being renovated using the Kent and Keit varieties,” he said.

This type of simple change, according to Dabire, forms the basis of PAFASP.

The project will focus primarily on four production streamsmangoes, cattle-beef, onions, and local poultry in order to boost not only their production, but also improve marketing by producers and agents. The project will also focus on specific aspects related to the cotton, cowpea, sesame, and corn production streams.

Profiting from the Market

The project objective is that by end-2012, the total volume of exports on the international market for the four products will reach 35,000 tons, double its current level of 17,500 tons. On the sub-regional West African market, the aim is to increase exports from 6,000 tons to 20,000 tons.

One project component has allocated US$26.7 million toward improving irrigation infrastructure covering a surface area of 6,000 hectares, including 1,000 hectares in Sourou Valley and on the Bagré site for large-scale irrigation systems, while small-scale irrigation systems will be applied on 5,000 hectares.

Nevertheless, for many farmers, increasing the amount of product sold is less important than obtaining a better price for what they have already put on the market. At harvest time, products are always cheaper because there is excess supply on the market. When the supply decreases months later, prices soar. The price of cowpeas, for example, is 150 CFA francs per kilogram at harvest time, but in June, it increases to 250 CFA francs and reaches 400 CFA francs in August or September. Few poor farmers make a profit under this system. On the contrary, many are forced to sell their products at harvest time, in order to pay back their loans at very high interest rates, for the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, and other agricultural inputs. Pressure from creditors prevents them from obtaining better prices.

Rosalie Ouédraogo, 43, is a member of a group of 20 women who are fighting to get a decent price for their cowpeas at harvest time.

“The prices were not good when I sold 20 of our 60 bags, but we had to sell in order to pay for fertilizers for the next season. We sold each bag for 12,000 CFA francs but we could get 20,000 CFA francs and even more at certain times of the year.”

The micro-projects planned by the PAFASP will, among other things, seek to facilitate access to long-term credit, for the benefit of investors, small entrepreneurs, and rural producers, in association with commercial banks.

“We know that it is possible to get a better price by selling several months after harvest,” said Sana Lassané, a sesame producer, who obtained a loan for 200,000 CFA francs. “If you take a six-month loan, the interest rate is low, at five percent; but if the loan is for more than 10 months, the rate soars to 10 percent. It is difficult to manage. You have to sell your product to pay off the loan.”

Keeping Produce Fresh

Farmers sell quickly and make no profit, not only because of financial pressures, but also because they are unable to conserve the products, which deteriorate quickly if not processed and properly preserved. This is why the PAFASP project has earmarked US$7 million to partially finance the initiatives of stakeholders in the production chain, with a view to developing and promoting infrastructure, marketing, and post-harvest processing. The existing infrastructure will be improved, or new facilities will be built, including packaging and cold storage facilities at the Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou export terminals, to shore up the export crop safety system. This will cover meat as well as fruits and vegetables.

The financing provided by PAFASP will enable the slaughterhouse in Ouagadougou to meet international standards. Furthermore, the project will help secure financing for the construction of a new slaughterhouse in Bobo-Dioulasso, as well as small-scale poultry slaughterhouses. There will also be cattle vaccination parks in the production areas to ensure that sanitation and hygiene standards are met.

The aim is to finance and implement at least 2,500 micro-projects selected by the farmers by the end of the six-year project, and to enable at least 60 percent of the farmers who benefit from project support to increase their revenue by 50 percent.

Next Steps

With US$32.5 million set aside for investing in the development of supply chains, another contribution of the project will be the search for potential markets for domestic products.

“The system is not organized,” Dabiré said. “In several sectors there are a lot of informal purchases. Trucks coming from Nigeria and Ghana stop and buy cowpeas and onions along the roadside. This happens every day, especially in the border areas, which means that we do not really know how much is exported. Official figures do not capture half of the reality.”

Through better monitoring of informal trade, the PAFASP project will seek to provide answers to these and many other questions. It hopes to foster change in how the agricultural sector operates, so that it can become a potential source of revenue, instead of being a mere struggle for survival.  

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