Behind the Lines of Stone: The Social Impact of a Soil and Water Conservation Project in the Sahel
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The Projet Agro-Forestier (PAF) in Burkina Faso was set up by Oxfam in 1979 and by 1982 had developed into a large-scale operation involved in helping farmers to conserve, protect and develop their natural-resource potential. The use of the water tube in the construction of stone diguettes or bunds has proved effective as a means of halting soil erosion. The project has been evaluated by means of written questionnaires, but oral histories have also been taken into account; the effectiveness of the diguettes is examined through an evaluation of PAF is ability to intervene, and the awareness of the farmers of the impact of the diguettes. The project has not stopped the pattern of lean years interspersed with bumper years. There are three major types of soil in the Yatanga province: zecca, which is gravel-like soil composed of rock debris, ferruginous sandy-textured soils, and alluvial or clayey soils. The process of increasing soil fertility is hampered by the fact that there is no available fallow land for shifting cultivation, and there is little access to chemical fertilizers, while the dry season is longer and rainfall is declining. The declining amount of water has its hardest impact on pastoralists who are forced to shift their migratory patterns as ponds dry out. The level of education is another factor affecting migration: although the school enrollment figures are high for the province, the literacy rates are low, so that although migration in search of employment is possible, there are few opportunities outside laboring. The option of trying out new farming techniques is considered too unreliable a gamble, making it difficult for outside agencies to promote innovations. The spread of diguettes across the province was therefore an important political step, and according to questionnaires evaluating the project, farmers were impressed by their impact. The major contribution made by the diguettes is the increase in water retention by the soil. The effort required to build them is a drawback, and some farmers have decided against building them for fear of flooding their land or because there are insufficient stones readily available or tools to build the walls. Yatenga is considered a high risk area as it has high population density and low soil fertility; about 40% of the population is considered at risk to famine. The drought in the 1970s is strong in the collective memory, and many livestock owners divested their cattle in order to but grain; the smallstock prices fell so low that pastoralists risked selling all their animals, and still not achieving food security. The PAF project has not had dramatic effects as yet, although there is confidence that it provides more reliability in terms of water resources. It introduces a three pronged approach to rural development integrating afforestation, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The project has focused on participation and presents itself as a responsive to farmers views and needs. At a technical level, improvements brought about by the PAF are apparent: soil moisture levels have risen, cereal crops have increased, there is a wider variety of non-cereal crops, and natural vegetation is regenerating, but the social and economic benefits are less obvious. Attempts to reach the poorest factors are undermined by other developments such as the mounting pressure to privatize land. The future of participation in development is dependent on the effectiveness of local socio-political organization. - Blench and Marriage Annotated Bibliography
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