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Forests, a source of life for women in Burkina Faso

FAO and its partners are helping women in Burkina Faso to better understand the nutritional value of forest products and to run effective community-based enterprises in order to boost their incomes and become self-sufficient.

Women in Burkina Faso holding kernels of the sheanut [FAO]

Almost all of Burkina Faso is covered by tree or wooded savannah, so it is hardly surprising that here, rural women boast a long tradition of relying on forest products for a variety of purposes: be it for food, medicines, clothing, tools or the manufacture of dyes.

For Burkinabé women, it is those products classified as ‘non wood forest products’  that are most important. They include many wild foods, such as nuts and fruits, leaves, mushrooms, honey, edible insects (caterpillars and termites), as well as spices, herbs, fibers, oils and other animal or plant products used for food, medicinal or cosmetic preparations.

Seeing the potential of these forest products in improving the lives and incomes of rural women, FAO set out in 2009 to establish a project across seven provinces in the North and Centre North of Burkina Faso.

Its aim was to help women improve the way they use and care for trees, as well as better understand the nutritional value of forest products – such as that of the nutritionally rich Moringa tree leaves - to promote their health and that of their families.

Women also received  guidance on how to run effective forest product enterprises in order to boost their incomes and become self-sufficient. In total, the project reached out to some 8000 people, 89 percent of them women.

Having been implemented over the last three years in partnership with the Ministry of the Environment and the UK NGO Tree Aid, the project has also helped to kick-start the revitalization of community-based forest enterprises, by providing them with inputs and linking them to national forest programmes and markets.

Women using a semi-automatic machine for cutting soap slabs.

Overall, 238 local associations have taken part in the project, each specializing in different activities and receiving inputs to help process and conserve products, such as soap presses and cutting boards, freezers, gas stoves and even bicycles for transportation.

In villages and cities nearby the project area, twelve sales outlets have been set up to facilitate the flow of products.

The results have been outstanding: on the one hand, through better informed consumption of forest products, the food and nutrition security of vulnerable women and that of their families have significantly improved, benefitting their health and ability to engage in income-generating activities.

On the other hand, local association and cooperatives have been able to set up sustainable and lucrative businesses by diversifying income-generating activities, managing forest resources and training their members in a variety of techniques: from the extraction methods of neem and shea butter oil for the manufacture of cosmetic products, to the preparation of nectars from local fruits, such as baobab and saba.

In the province of Yatenga, for instance, L'Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme (AZPF), has been training women in the production of soap bars from Egyptian Balanite, a tree famous for its date-like fruits, and whose oil is ideal to repair dry, parched skin.

To ensure the project’s environmental sustainability, community-based forest enterprises and their members, most of whom are women, also received technical training on a number of practices, including fruit tree production and reforestation.