Burkina Faso: Believing In The Future By Betting On Agriculture

Land grabbing and the scarce revenue generated by agriculture are forcing Burkinabe farmers off their land. The De La Salle Brothers in Burkina Faso have launched a project called the Lasallian Centre for Training in Agricultural Skills (CLIMA) in order to make agriculture, the primary sector in the country, attractive.

CLIMA’s Brother Director, Abel Dembelé, explained the aim of this project “The De La Salle Brothers strongly support the education of the poor. Farmers are among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Burkina Faso. We decided to establish a training centre that would provide young people, whether they are married or not, with the appropriate knowledge and formation regarding agriculture and livestock. Our courses are aimed at preparing our students to face all problems and difficulties that may occur in farming, in order to obtain better results. Young people are supposed to attend the courses as internal students during at least an entire agricultural season. Besides lessons, the students of the centre are also provided with land to cultivate”.

“The first phase of this project consisted in finding the right location for the centre”, Brother Abel Dembelé said, “we opted for a large property of the Burkinabe State that until the Sankara revolution had hosted a fish farm. The lack of water, along with the increase of the costs of the equipment required for the structure, made the business shut down. The place seemed to be suitable for our project; it is located on the outskirts of Beregadugú, southwest of Burkina Faso, near the Ivorian border”.

It took several times before the De La Salle Brothers could acquire the property. Finally, the works started and in April 2007, the Centre was able to host the first students. The first course of the Centre lasted nine months, which were characterised by intense agricultural activities in the fields and lessons in class.

The organisation of work at CLIMA is very simple. Each student and his/her family is accommodated in a small house with a vegetable garden. A child care centre has also been created in order to host students’ children. The Centre provides a specific intensive training related to the main examples of agricultural holdings in the region. Students attend theoretical classes on agriculture only on some days of the week, because they spend the majority of their training time in the fields for the cultivation of corn and bananas, and in farms for chicken and pig breeding. Pairs of students – a couple or two single students – are put in charge of a medium-sized farm and they are provided with tools, seeds and other necessary items to work. CLIMA decides what students are supposed to cultivate in the land at their disposal in order to practise what they have learnt in class. The harvest of the fields cultivated by the students of the centre is supervised by the teachers, and the products remain at CLIMA, and constitute the main food for the students of the following year.

Students can also ask CLIMA for some land to cultivate for their own benefit. CLIMA rules contemplate that students who leave the Centre after they have completed their training course, are allowed to take some supplies of food that can help them to survive, at least, until the next harvest. Experience indicates that, some years, depending on the outcome of the harvest, CLIMA students even manage to sell part of their own harvest. Teachers supervise these personal crops, they give students some advice, and provide seeds and fertilizers. Students, in turn, at the time of the harvest, will give a certain amount of products to the Centre. As an educational supplement, childcare, hygiene and French courses are held at the end of the afternoon. The Centre also offers the students and their families a Eucharist weekly, Christian formation, time for prayer and activities related to evangelization.

CLIMA has created several farms for its self-sufficiency; there are pig and laying hen farms, and a sesame plantation as well as a large field of fruit trees – mango, papaya, and cashew – can also be found at the centre. A certain amount of eggs, meat and fruit are transported to the neighbouring city of Banfora daily. Students visit these farms, learn about new farming techniques, such as drip irrigation or ways to incubate eggs, and they learn the secrets for succeeding in each sector of this field. They work for a few days on the farm they are more interested in, to learn and to practice techniques. They are supported by specialised operators, and then they get the necessary equipment from CLIMA to start their own activity if they want, although at the moment there are not many who are taking advantage of these promising opportunities.

In recent years, CLIMA has also started a fruitful collaboration with the Burkinabe universities specialised in agriculture and livestock. Every year the Centre hosts several university students who want to have some practice before or after completing their studies. Despite the large-scale migration of people from rural areas and the abandonment of agricultural activities in Burkina and in all Africa, CLIMA continues to bet on farmers, providing them with training that may give them hope and a future.

– Josean Villalabeitia

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