Action Against Desertification

How balanites soap put a smile back on Hadjatou Ouedraogo’s face

Non-timber forest products create economic opportunities for rural families in Africa's arid zones


Sampelga, Burkina Faso - "Here we eat the fruit of the Balanites tree," says Hadjatou Ouedraogo, a farmer in her fifties from the village of Sampelga in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel region. She takes a piece of nut from the container in her hand and adds: "And we used to throw the nuts away.”

“But not anymore," she says, pouring the crushed nuts from the container into a metal basin on the floor. By winnowing the nuts, she explains, you separate out the shell and you can collect the kernels. She still has to grind the kernels, boil the powder obtained in water and the oil will rise at the surface.

Things have changed a lot since Hadjatou Ouedrago has learned how to use the treasure buried inside the Balanites tree.

Balanites, also known as the desert date, is a dryland tree that grows from the Sahel to the Middle East. For thousands of years, man has extracted the oil from its kernels and used it for cooking, in cosmetics and for soap making.

Balanites is one of the priority sectors of non-timber forest products that Action Against Desertification is backing to promote economic development of rural communities in the arid zones of the Great Green Wall in Burkina Faso.

A third of this Sahelian country's territory, more than 9 million hectares, is degraded - an area that is expanding at a rate of an estimated 360 000 hectares per year. Action Against Desertification, an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, aims to stop and reverse this trend.

Implemented by FAO with funding from the European Union, Action Against Desertification has already restored more than 7 000 hectares of degraded land in Burkina Faso since the beginning of its activities in the country in 2016.

At the same time, Action Against Desertification works with rural communities to increase their incomes through the development of value chains for products such as balanites oil, as well as honey and gum Arabic.

In the village of Sampelga, where Action Against Desertification brought 200 hectares of land under restoration, twenty women tried their luck. Supported by the project, they learned how to extract balanites oil and how to transform it into soap. Together, they created an association, M'Ballakataré, under the presidency of Hadjatou Ouédraogo, focussed on the production of balanites soap.

In two year’s time, production has reached about 3 600 pieces of soap per year, generating an income of more than 3 000 000 CFA francs (almost $ 5 500). This sum is shared equitably among the members of the group. For each member, this represents net monthly revenues of approximatively 15 000 CFA francs (nearly $ 30).

Before, Hadjatou Ouedraogo lived mainly from the sale of cow's milk on the market. Her income has doubled since. "Now I can provide for my family," she says. "This soap has brought a smile back on my face and the hope of a better tomorrow."

Read more on Action Against Desertification in Burkina Faso.