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2. PATECORE - Kongoussi


PATECORE is a conservation and land development project, based at Kongoussi on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso. One of the project's first activities was to set up a provincial committee for the coordination of development activities. PATECORE promotes self-help by local communities and encourages discussion about development at all levels. Communities are encouraged to develop village land-use management plans, and are trained to use aerial photographs for this purpose. Permeable rock dams, which the local people feel to be a priority, are the project's most important conservation activity. Lorries have been introduced by the project free of charge to help farmers to carry stones for the construction of these rock dams.

Name Projet Amenagement des Terroirs et Conservation des Ressources dans le Plateau Central (PATECORE)

Contact: Jean Bado Babou, Project Manager

Address: B.P. 271 Kongoussi, Bam Province, Burkina Faso

Status: Government Project - Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Ministère de l'Agriculture et de l'Elevage)

Sponsor/Donor: Ministry of Cooperation (German Government)

Date of Start: April 1988.


As with the Agro-Forestry project - PAF in Yatenga, PATECORE is situated on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso. The problems in Bam Province are similar to those of Yatenga. A growing population has caused increasing pressure on agricultural and grazing land, leading to abandonment of the fallow period in the fields and overgrazing of the common land. The result is land degradation due to over-use.


These problems have been made worse by the reduction in rainfall over the last 20 years. The annual average for the early part of the 1980s was as low as 500 mm a very marked decline from the 1960s' when the average was nearly 700 mm.

Annual Average Rainfall - Patecore

A particular problem around Kongoussi is the formation of gullies in the productive valleys where floodwaters previously used to spread naturally. Villagers rely on these valleys for crop production because the soil has been eroded away from the hillsides which they used to cultivate. The farmers have followed the soil, and the water, down from the hills!

Two national conservation projects, the "GERES" project of the 1960s and the "FEER" project of the 1970s/80s had programmes to combat land degradation. However their effect was limited by the lack of consultation or collaboration with the villagers.


The problems:

• a growing population leading to increased pressure on land and other resources and consequent land degradation;

• marked decline of rainfall over the past twenty years;

• formation of gullies;

• lack of consultation with villagers by previous soil conservation projects.

The people's urgent priority now is to control the gullies in these valleys. One solution is permeable rock dams. These long, low structures rehabilitate the gullies and spread the floodwater. They improve plant production by:

• making more moisture available in a generally dry climate;
• improving the soil with fertile deposits of top soil and plant debris.

In 1981/82 a small project was set up under the French Volunteer Service (AFVP) in the Rissiam region, near Kongoussi. This project developed the technique of permeable rock dams. These became so popular that between 1982 and 1987, 148 permeable rock dams were built with the assistance of AFVP. The technical model of AFVP was the starting point for PATECORE's permeable rock dams.


PATECORE began in 1988 with the aim of introducing an integrated, approach to conservation of village resources. This was to be achieved through discussion between villagers, project staff and other organisations working in the same village.

The Programme Allemand CILSS (the German Programme for the Sahelian Countries) had already successfully tested this type of approach in Burkina Faso.

Specific objectives were that:

• Land use planning should be carried out by villagers, according to their traditional methods of classifying land.

• Conservation structures - such as permeable rock dams - should be built as carefully as possible to reduce maintenance requirements.

• No techniques should be used which were too difficult for the people to construct and look after.

• Assistance by the project would be limited to

- transport
- technology development
- training
- support for the process of collaboration.


We will look closely at one of PATECORE's main conservation activities - the technique of permeable rock dams.


Permeable rock dams (PRD) are the most important conservation technique in the area, and the project views these as the "backbone" of its activities.

During the rainy season, large quantities of rainwater runoff are produced on the barren hillsides, where overgrazing has removed most of the vegetation. This runoff collects in small gullies and then flows down towards the valleys. This is no longer a gentle flow which spreads and waters the crops. These days it has become a torrent which cuts channels in the centre of the fertile valleys.

Permeable rock dams help to control the runoff and stabilise the valleys. At the same time water is spread, and crop performance is improved.

PATECORE has taken the design developed by the nearby AFVP project and modified it to make the dams more durable and to reduce the amount of maintenance required. The permeable rock dams constructed under PATECORE are long, low dams made of loose stone, which stretch across valley floors, spreading floodwater and healing gullies. Usually the height of the dams is only 50 cm, but they can be up to 800 metres in length. Water doesn't stand behind the dam for long, because it filters through the loose stone wall.

(See technical section.)


Management of the Project:

PATECORE has up to ten local and expatriate staff at the project headquarters in Kongoussi. They see their role as facilitating development, rather than "managing" activities directly.

Coordination of Development Activities in the Province:

PATECORE has helped set up the Provincial Land Development Coordinating Committee. This committee is made up of government officials at the provincial level, and all the development agencies which are active in the province. The committee can plan activities in a coordinated way which will enable them to work out a common overall strategy for development in the area. By working in this way, they can ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication of activities, that they agree on technical solutions, that there is no "competition" between them, and that the villagers do not become confused because of different approaches and incentives.


Organisation of Work:

When a village requests assistance with planning and implementing conservation measures, this is what happens.

1. Village requests for assistance are screened by the Provincial Land Development Coordinating Committee (see above).

2. If approved, extension agents visit the village and discuss what must be done to overcome the problems the villagers face.

3. A Village Land Resource Management Committee is formed.

4. In cooperation with extension agents from various organisations planning of the village land use takes place using aerial photographs. The villagers draw outlines on the aerial photographs of the different categories of their land which follow the traditional system of classification. This mixture of the traditional and the modern works well, and it does not take long to train villagers to interpret aerial photographs.

5. A village land-use management plan is then drawn up by the Village Land Resource Management Committee. This plan outlines the improved management of each of the land categories, with a timetable for action.

6. Villagers are trained in techniques such as surveying with water-tube levels and siting of permeable rock dams. Guidance is also given on organisational aspects.

7. Some hand tools are supplied to the village committee.

8. The villagers stake out the alignment of the permeable rock dams in the field.

9. Stones and rocks are collected voluntarily on a group basis, and then transported, free of charge, by the project's lorries.

10. Construction is supervised by a project extensionist in the first year, then by a locally trained technician in the second year, and after that by the villagers themselves. Usually families carry out the construction on their own.



PATECORE has a very clear policy on incentives. It believes that the people should be given significant support in carrying out this type of activity and not have to rely entirely on their own resources.

For this reason PATECORE provides lorries free of charge to transport stone for the villagers. Availability of stone is of course the major problem with the construction of permeable rock dams. The argument in favour of the lorries is as follows:

1. Donkey carts are too slow to cope with the size and urgency of the problem ('erosion is faster than a donkey cart").

2. Lorries are only required in the construction stage, so no dependence on them will be created for other activities.

3. The people are so poor that they cannot be expected to contribute a significant amount to the running costs of the lorries.

However it is in this last respect that PATECORE differs most from the earlier established AFVP project. The belief of AFVP is that villagers should contribute a proportion (approximately a half) of the running cost for transport by lorries. AFVP believe that transport should eventually be taken over and managed by the village committees themselves.

In addition to the lorries, PATECORE supplies hand tools on a revolving-fund basis. Food-for-work is not used by PATECORE.


There is a clear division of work and responsibilities between the project and the people. In summary the people's participation is required in:

• the original request for assistance
• setting up village committees
• developing a village land-use management plan
• supplying volunteers for training
• contributing the labour, voluntarily, for all activities
• monitoring
• future planning and supervision of development activities.

The project concentrates on providing training, technological guidance and transport as well as helping to coordinate development activities.



Training is one of PATECORE's main priorities. PATECORE trains villagers in planning the use of their land and in various conservation techniques.

Staff from government agencies and other projects are trained as well. This helps to ensure that techniques and approaches are the same for all the organisations in the area.

Training courses are held at the project headquarters near Kongoussi, where there are purpose-built classrooms.


Permeable rock dams improve crop yields very considerably - by between approximately 50% and 130%. Yields of sorghum can be increased to as high as 2,000 kg/ha. Because rich sediment builds up behind the dams each season, crop yields improve over the first few years.

A summary of the main benefits expected from permeable rock dams:

• harvesting and spreading of floodwaters for better crops
• a reduction in the speed and erosive force of runoff
• silting up of gullies with fertile deposits
• prevention of further erosion
• rehabilitation of abandoned land (in some cases)
• raising the water table.

Gombraogo Ouedragogo, a farmer whose land has been improved by a permeable rock dam

"This area was so dry and degraded, I abandoned it for seven long years. I was farming elsewhere when I heard about the project. So I came back here last year and we built this dam. It has worked very well and I'm very happy with it."


Limitations of Permeable Rock Dams

Permeable rock dams are a very effective technique, but their impact is limit ed. This is for two reasons.

1. Permeable rock dams use a large amount of stone and labour, and therefore only a small number can be built during one season.

2. Since they are particularly suited to valley bottoms, their main benefits are concentrated on those who live there rather than being spread among the whole community.


PATECORE has developed the design of PRDs, but there are some technical problems which sometimes occur. These include:

• waterlogging on heavy soils
• siltation with sand rather than soil
• tunnelling of runoff below dams in some soils.

Lorries for Transport of Stone

The project considers that people are too poor to pay anything towards the cost of the lorries. However this makes it very difficult for other projects which believe that beneficiaries should contribute something.

Keeping up with Demand

The popularity of permeable rock dams is so great that it is difficult for PATECORE to keep up with demand! The project is trying to emphasise other techniques which are quicker and cheaper to implement.


1. Coordination of development organisations working within the same area is extremely important. The establishment of the Provincial Coordinating

Committee is a positive step towards achieving this in Bam Province.

2. The responsibility for overall planning and management of village resources has been given to the villagers themselves. Planning of land use by the village committees ensures that local priorities and development efforts are matched.

3. Requiring voluntary labour for construction of conservation works ensures that villagers are committed to what they do. Participation by the "beneficiaries" is essential for long-term development.

4. Using traditional systems of land classification together with aerial photographs is a mixture of the very old and the very new - but it has been shown to work effectively as a basis for planning.

5. Training of extension workers from Government departments and other projects leads to improved cooperation, and helps make sure that extension messages and techniques are similar.

6. The design of the permeable rock dam is based on systems tried originally by other projects - learning from others' experience where possible is always useful.

7. The question of mechanisation must be approached very carefully to ensure that dependence and expectations are not created. There is also the danger of projects having conflicting approaches.

8. Permeable rock dams are successful here, but this is a technique which can be used only in certain specific situations.

9. There is a need to develop cheaper techniques which can be applied more widely.

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