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Fighting high food costs in Burkina Faso

Women battle for fairer access to staples

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Consumers hope food prices will come down soon.

25 June 2010, Ouagadougou/Kokologo - As it grapples with a hunger crisis due to drought in the Sahel, Burkina Faso is still feeling the impact of high food prices. Although the cost of food has come down since reaching a peak in 2008, it remains stubbornly high here.

Says Pauline Koné, a government worker in Ouagadougou: "In February 2008 women united and marched in protest against the high cost of living. The price of rice that children like had risen from 11 000 to 35 000 CFA francs (from €17 to €53) for a 50 kilo bag!"

Some 45km to the south, in the village of Kokologo, Koumba Kabré feels overwhelmed. She has six children to feed. From the family's remaining store of millet and sorghum she collects a single ration to make porridge for the evening.

The family members find it increasingly hard to muster the strength to work on empty stomachs, in spite of the huge daily workload that awaits them. "We only have one meal a day, for our cereal stocks will only last till June," Kabré says.

As a side activity, she makes pottery and keeps chickens, which she sells at Koudougou, the provincial capital. She will use the small amount she earns to cover the coming lean period so as not to be forced to eat the seeds that will be needed for the following planting season.

A way out for 860 000 households

Claude Zabsonré, chief for the area around Kokologo, is confident that this time he will be able to lift Koumba's family out of food insecurity thanks to support from FAO and the European Union (EU).

"Before the next planting season, this household will receive improved, certified seed, free of charge. To increase the output of their three hectares of land, the family will be able to plant rice, maize, sorghum or cowpea," he says.

A total of 860 000 vulnerable households throughout the country, over six million people, will benefit from FAO's operation, backed with €18 million in EU-funding as part of the EU's ‘Food Facility'.

"You can really feel the extreme fragility of the rural communities affected by high prices of agricultural products. There is an urgent need to restore capacities for high quality output, food availability and accessibility and for ensuring the variety and sustainability of household diets," says Jean-Pierre Renson, FAO's Emergency Coordinator in Burkina Faso. 

Improved seeds

In the irrigated areas of Banzon, in the south of the country, over 900 seed producers have involved their agricultural cooperative in the production of improved seeds.

"During the dry season December 2009-April 2010, we planted 200 hectares of rice, 100 hectares of maize and 5 hectares of cowpeas", says Seydou Sawadogo, president of the cooperative. "With the proceeds of last year, when I earned 800 000 CFA francs (€ 1 220), I have been able to extend my house, adding two rooms and a living room."

Producer Diallo Yacouba farms a 0,75 ha plot, where he is scrupulous in using production techniques that comply with FAO standards required for certification of his output.

By selling quality rice and maize seeds Yacouba will not only increase his own profits, he will have prompted a chain reaction, because it is precisely these seeds that FAO uses to assist vulnerable families like Koumba's in Kokologo.

Meanwhile, in Ouagadougou, Pauline hopes that the price of a sack of rice will be going down soon.

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