A travel report on Burkina Faso

A travel report on Burkina Faso

A study trip to development and cooperation

by Rosi and Claude Dougoud

In February, we had the opportunity to visit Burkina–Faso–projects with the aid of Yam Pouiré, which in Mooré means, “sharing thoughts, knowledge and wisdom” (see box). We have experienced African families in their villages with their schools and their way of farming. We have learned a lot. Our hopes were encouraged that hungry and impoverished peoples in the Sahel region could be relieved from their misery with such projects.

Burkina Faso – “Land of the Honest Man”

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in Africa. It is located at the original meridian in West Africa north of the equator. With an area of 274,200 km2, it is seven times larger than Switzerland. The country has a population of 19 million people.
Burkina Faso has shares in the large countryside of Sudan and the Sahel region. It is characterized by a tropical climate and varied savannah landscape. Temperatures range from 25 to 45 degrees throughout the year. During a short rainy season, the farmers are able to cultivate the native grain Mil, a millet, with difficulty. The desastrous drought in the 1970s and 1980s has particularly dried up the north of the country, with devastating consequences like hunger and poverty and the unspeakable suffering of the population. Previously, the soil was very fertile and green landscapes shaped the region. We learned that this from a village elder.
In most months, there is no precipitation. In a short rainy season of three months, there are torrential rainfalls with up to 60 mm per hour. Recurring droughts often caused great hardship among the population consisting mainly of peasants.
About half of the Burkinabe population is one of the largest ethnic groups among the Mossi people who lived in several kingdoms until the French colonization at end of the 19th century. About 60 native languages are spoken in Burkina Faso. Apart from traditional beliefs and Christianity, Islam is the most practiced religion.

Civil society protects democracy

Burkina Faso is characterised by the cultural diversity of ethnic groups living peacefully together in a certain stability. Since 5 August 1960, Burkina Faso has been an independent republic. Between 1987 and 2014, President Blaise Compaoré ruled the country in an authoritarian manner for 27 years. In 2014, he wanted the constitution to be amended in order to facilitate a 5th term of office. In a large demonstration of the civil society, Parliament was prevented from changing the constitution. Compaoré had to leave the country. Nevertheless the subsequent military government could survive because people were resisting on the street.
On 29 November 2015, Roch Marc Kaboré was voted for president in free elections. From a representative of civil society in Congo-Kinshasa we have learned that the unbloody insurgency in Burkina Faso plays a role model to many countries in Africa, especially for their civil societies. The citizens of Burkina Faso are very proud of their regained democracy. Each time we passed the Place de Nation, they told us that now the population calls it Place de Révolution, in commemoration of the peaceful transition to democracy.
Despite bitter poverty, Burkina Faso has a great advantage. It does not have mineral resources and is otherwise also geostrategically uninteresting. For these reasons, there is hope that the country will continue to develop in peace through courage, willingness and diligence.

First impressions

At the invitation of Yam Pouiré and its president, Monique Raemy, we visited Africa for the first time. The arrival in Ouagadougou was already impressive. We met a vibrant city full of life. Strikingly many motorcycles circulated in the streets. People are very inventive the way they can transport anything on their vehicles. On the roadsides at push carts of mostly poor condition, everything imaginable was offered. Flying traders are present everywhere. Above all, the women attract attention with their colorful clothes. The capital has to combat the problem of air pollution.

Cooperation of Yam Pouiré with organisations from Burkina Faso

The misery and poverty described was experienced by the founder-couple Raemy of Yam Pouiré, on a holiday trip. It did not let them go. The aid organisation as well as longterm friendly relations with local helpers have originated thereof. Yam Pouiré cooperates mainly with two relief organizations from Burkina Faso. It is the ASFUD Association Song Taaba in the villages of Songpelsé and Taonsgho near the capital Ouagadougou and Burkina Vert in the north.
Thanks to the support over the years, many peasants in countless villages have been able to take their destiny into their own hands and make steps away from poverty. How much dignity they were given back by this, we will explain by some examples.
In Balonghin, the first village we visited, the inhabitants thanked us for the help from Switzerland and for our coming. The village was able to excavate and fortify fountains, open up a health center and currently set up a pharmacy through a small local association. In grateful acknowledgement of the health centre the state has financed a birth place.
The village had also received cows in recent years. In a speech, a farmer thanked us proudly and presented his two cows. Over the years, the calves were handed over to other families in the village. Thus, a herd was formed, that is also very important for the fertiliser. Joyfully, chickens were presented to us as gifts of gratitude.
Animals are of great importance for agriculture. The villages hold cows besides goats and sheep. They provide the welcome fertiliser for the ground. The green waste is composted.
Yam Pouiré also helps with the construction of schools. In the north, we saw classrooms with over 60 pupils (!). The families are happy and proud that their children can attend the school. The school garden where students learn how to grow vegetables is of importance. It is wanted in the school kitchen. With their teachers, schoolgirls sang a friendly song of welcome and showed an African ritual dance.

Humanitarian tradition

In Switzerland, humanitarian aid and development aid have got a tradition. Many communities and churches support various projects at home and abroad every year. Many citizens are also generous donors.
Yam Pouiré is supported only if a village submits a request to the local partner Burkina Vert or ASFUD, justifies its request and specifies its own work. Thereafter, the application is forwarded in writing to Yam Pouiré.

Using Diguettes: Recovery of barren soils

A project co-financed by Wangen-Brüttisellen, a municipality in the canton of Zurich, looks as follows:
The strong water flow in the rainy season is braked by diguettes, also called stone bands.
Thus erosion is countered. The location and orientation of the diguettes is determined in cooperation between the villagers and the consultants of Burkina Vert. Behind the diguettes are arranged semi-moons or zais (plant holes) filled with compost. Now mil or sorgho (two types of millet) can be planted without the young plants being washed out by the water. The diguettes are reinforced by planting a kind of sweetgrass (andropogon). The sweetgrass will be used for weaving of mats and these in turn will be used for the construction of huts. The diguettes are repaired every year so that the effect of water retainment can be maintained. After one or two years, the land thus treated is permanently recovered for crops. In the past five years several villages have been able to make 360 hectares of land fertile again by the support of Burkina Vert.
The women dig out the stones they need by using yam sticks and bring the stones on their heads or in wheelbarrows to the truck. The truck brings the women to the scheduled field in their village. For larger distances, wheelbarrows are used to transport the stones to the truck. The men expertly build the diguettes. The yam sticks, wheelbarrows and the rental of the truck have been financed by the municipality. A project is technically accompanied by Burkina Vert for one year.

Increasing the groundwater level

With the aid of diguettes – small water retention dams – the village communities can cultivate more land and gain higher grain harvests. The soils are recovered and soil fertility is increased. The small dams brake the water flow in the rainy season, then guide the water to where it seeps into the soil. An important effect is also that the groundwater level rises every year.
As the groundwater level rises, wells can be drilled more easily. This is done by the villagers themselves. Yam Pouiré finances the cement so that the wells can be kept safe, stable and clean. The water from the wells is the prerequisite for the planting and cultivation of vegetable fields. Vegetables bring diversity into the diet, leading to an improvement in human health.
Providing for themselves and their children makes them self-confident and proud. A leader of Burkina Vert once remarked, “the earth never lies,” but “she gives us much, we have to work hard for it.”
The farmers can sell surpluses on the domestic market, deliver them to the capital, and even partly export them to neighboring countries. As the Burkina Vert association, in a cooperative manner, buys the seed for all the peasants in the villages and also takes over the sale, for the villages remain a great income. This is urgently needed to pay for clothes, education and health costs.
Since the groundwater level has risen strongly in many villages, the farmers can grow potatoes, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, salads, beans, peppers, peppers, parsley, zuchetti, cabbage, garlic and other varieties of local vegetable. When there is enough water, papaya and mango trees thrive splendidly.  

Gristmills and crop banks

In another village, the woman’s spokeswoman told us that they could not sleep for joy and danced all night due to the news of getting a mill. They organised an inauguration ceremony in which Monique Raemy cut a band. Afterwards the women of the village danced a ritual dance. The joy of life was infectious and touching. Without a mill the inhabitants had to take long marches to the next mill under their feet. A mill brings a tremendous improvement in the living conditions. Another important contribution of Yam Pouiré is the financing of cement for building grain stores. These stores enable the farmers to secure grain in a safe, professional manner, in order to be able to make use of the reserves in tight times. Otherwise, they would have to buy the grain on the “free” market.

Collaboration, Friendship and development

The trip to Burkina Faso was fascinating. People have impressed us with their cordiality, their open manner, their efficiency at work and their humor. Friendship with the local helpers grew in the short days. Many interesting conversations took place. We returned to Switzerland with many impressive memories. We learned a lot in the twelve days.
We were especially touched by the way the African helpers came into contact with the villagers. We felt the mutual respect and the respect for the work of the other.
We were also able to comprehend the importance of the report on the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development of 2008 for all countries, especially for poor countries such as Burkina Faso. This kind of small-scale agriculture belongs to the future. Many organisations help with afforestation, irrigation and much more. We would like to thank those countless helpers.
Every donation to Yam Pouiré is, in our view, directly reaching the people of Burkina Faso, who are in urgent need, but also prudently deal with it and make effective use of it.    •

Donate for Yam Pouiré:
Konto: CH96 0688 8016 2011 3481 0,
Yam Pouiré c/o Monique Raemy, Postfach,
8602 Wangen b. Dübendorf,
Bezirkssparkasse Uster
(Translation Current Concerns)

Yam Pouiré – “Sharing of thoughts, skills and wisdom”

“The name expresses exactly what we are seeking: a continuous and mutually trusting cooperation with the local population in view of a sustainable development that meets the actual needs on site.
The association is politically and denominationally independent and is based on the ethics of Albert
Schweitzer. He already supports existing small local organisations for children and adults in Burkina Faso.
The long-standing fertile partnership with the farmers of the society Burkina Vert, which is active in the north of the country, and the steady connection with three independent villages and with the women’s organisation Song Taaba in the centre of the country shape most of our activities in Burkina Faso.
The basic idea is not to dissipate our energies in as many villages as possible, but to support certain villages specifically through holistic projects. It is important that the villagers themselves express what they need and implement the projects with their own hands.
The capacity building and the help to build a steady development aimed at self-sufficiency and economic independence is the best way to strengthen the livelihoods of a village and combat the migration of young people to the big cities.” (Quoted from: www.yampouiré.org)

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