Waterdrops in the Sahel: Irrigation for family farms

Project completed
A farmer installs drip irrigation pipes on semi-arid land in Burkina Faso © SDC DEZA

Situated at the edge of the Sahel, Burkina Faso is critically exposed to effects of climate change. Smallholder farmers do the bulk of their work during the rainy season from June to September. The SDC helps them increase to their yields providing irrigation systems for their market gardens and suitable seed, fertilisers and agricultural equipment.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Burkina Faso
Agriculture & food security
Agricultural development
Agricultural policy
Agricultural water resources
Agricultural research
15.03.2011 - 31.12.2014
CHF 6'600'000

In Burkina Faso, 80% of the population earn most of their income from agriculture and livestock production. The country's economy is based on smallholder family farming which, however, produce low yields owing to the low level of mechanisation and training of the producers. Moreover, livestock production and agriculture are now even more suffering from a lack of access to water as a result global warming. These farmers do not have easy access to agricultural inputs (such as seeds, fertilisers and phytosanitary products.) nor to modern agricultural equipment, particularly because the Government only supports cotton farming. A very fragile situation has therefore developed with recurrent food crises when rainfall is insufficient, as was the case in 2012.

Since 2007 an SDC project has supported family farms in areas where food security is the most precarious to optimize and increase agricultural production. The SDC provides family farms with easier access to irrigation equipment, tools and agricultural inputs. It also trains them in more efficient farming techniques and assists local farmers to get organized in networks.

Drip irrigation to combat drought

Drip irrigation is a farming technique promoted by the SDC that allows an efficient and economic irrigation of crops. The equipment consisting of a pump, a tank and hose pipes enables vegetable gardens of up to 1,000 m2 to be cultivated even during the dry season. The average cost per installation is CHF 840 per 1,000 m2. This system can double or even triple the number of harvests. It also eliminates the daily chore of pumping and transporting water from the well to the field. Used in combination with resistant seed varieties and fertilisers, the drip irrigation system has increased the average yield of tested harvests by 30%. Between 2007 and 2014, more than 10,000 market gardeners have benefited from training in a designated market garden which is irrigated thanks to the support of the SDC. Several hundred farmers/peasants were able to buy an irrigation system with a bank loan or donation from a friend or family member.

Seed and advice from the same source

In this context, Switzerland supports alternative supply systems in order to improve producers' access to agricultural inputs. With this aim in mind, a cooperative comprising a network of more than 300 stores in different communes in Burkina Faso was established to sell seed, fertilisers and farming tools.

Training courses offered by this network aloe the farmers to economically and efficiently use the available water resources, but also the appropriate use of fertilizers to increase their harvest in a sustainable manner. In 2013, almost two million farmers benefited from advice and services provided by this network.

Shea Butter as an Alternative Source of Income

The SDC partner famers’ organization offer technical advice to small farmers and represent their interests. Women's organisations encourage, for example, the production of shea butter, a popular cosmetic product in Burkina Faso.

Having obtained the right to manage plots of forest, these women produce products other than wood. These products are an essential alternative source of income in the event of poor harvests.

Moreover, the help provided by these SDC partner woman-farmer organisations enables women farmers to participate in political processes to manage the region's natural resources. In particular the women advocate for the protection of the shea tree in the fields and for the establishment of protected agro-forestry parks.

Success story:
Bibata Kindo Increases her Onion Harvest

Bibata Kindo is a member of the union of producers of Koumbri, which is supported by the SDC. She has access to a drip irrigation system. As a result she has been able to intensify her production of onions and also cultivate other kinds of vegetables.

"When I started my 100 m2 market garden it was difficult to irrigate because I did not yet have the drip irrigation system. I produced about seven tines of onions per year [one tine is equivalent to about 12.5 kg]. But thanks to the drip system, since 2005, I have had a 500 m2 garden. What's more, the work isn't as hard and I harvest two to three times a year. Each harvest yields on average 60 tines of onions that I sell for about CFA 300,000 (about CHF 565).

I have added some rows of lettuce, carrots, beans and sorrel leaves for my family. I dry the surplus to eat during the rest of the year.

With the money I earn, I can help my husband a lot with the household expenses and cover a large part of the costs of schooling and medical costs of our children. I have bought an ox for breeding. The rest of the money is for the whole family."