Restoring lands and livelihoods in Burkina Faso: The business of one association

Restoring lands and livelihoods in Burkina Faso: The business of one association

Mr Alain Traoré, Director of tiipaalga, shares insights from his long-term efforts in fostering farmer-led restoration initiatives in Burkina Faso as part of our CBD COP13 Blog Series.

Effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities and women in ecosystem restoration is one of the three main principles of the Action Plan on Ecosystem Restoration that the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are expected to adopt at their next Conference in Cancun in December. Effective participation is both the ends and means of ecosystem restoration, but is not easily achieved.

A Burkinabè association tiipaalga (meaning ‘new tree’) has worked with the country’s farmers for over a decade to help them bring their degraded lands back to life. The organization’s aim is to help improve ecosystems for the purpose of improving the well-being of local households. The organization considers – and calls – farmers its partners. Mr Alain Traoré, Director of tiipaalga, shares insights from his long-term efforts in fostering farmer-led restoration initiatives in Burkina Faso.

This is the fifth blog in the CBD COP13 Forest and Landscape Restoration Blog Series highlighting why mainstreaming agricultural and tree biodiversity in sustainable food and production systems is critical to achieve the CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, with a particular focus on forest and landscape restoration.

Q: What is tiipaalga’s approach in supporting farmers?

A: Our main approach is assisted natural regeneration, which is a low-cost forest restoration method aimed at accelerating growth of existing natural regeneration by removing competition from weeds and other disturbances and creating a more favorable micro-environment for growth. In some cases, if natural regeneration is not sufficient, planting of valuable species to supplement the existing tree populations (enrichment planting) can be carried out.

While we support planting trees, we recommend farmers only plant in small numbers, to allow them to maintain the trees. There is no point in planting one million trees which we cannot tend. It’s better to plant 10 trees per year and in 50 years we will have all we want. We want our partners [farmers] to be sure to be able to care for their trees so they can bring life; as our slogan says: “a tree for life”.

In addition to promoting tree regrowth, we focus on avoiding further decline of trees through the over-exploitation of fuelwood by promoting the adoption of improved cook stoves. In our country, 80% to 90% of households still use fuelwood for cooking.

We are not here to bring high technologies to farmers. We want them to work with the tools they know. The innovations should come from them. We do not bring all the solutions. We do not focus on quantity and working on a large scale, but on the quality of our interventions and relationships with our partners.

Q: There are a range of approaches for fostering restoration. Why does tiipaalga focus on natural assisted regeneration with individual households?

A: Our approach focuses on households because reforestation is intimately tied to tenure rights and today, in practice, land comes under the control of a household rather than a whole lineage or community.

We focus on natural assisted regeneration with limited tree planting to avoid farmers incurring repeated costs of planting without reaping benefits, for example, if saplings are not well maintained and die. We want them to achieve success, to see positive results when they attempt to reforest. If that strategy had been applied since the 1960s and all the tree planting efforts that have taken place in Burkina Faso had been successful, we would not be here today still talking about reforestation.

Q: What kind of results have you achieved using your restoration approach?

A: We use a technique called the ‘mise en défens’ – basically fencing off a small area of land to allow it to regenerate without threats from humans or animals. The positive results we have achieved using this technique have shown us that it is possible to restore vegetation and to ‘green’ the Sahel if we use the right strategies and means. There were times when people were discouraged and questioned whether it was still possible to green the Sahel, but now we see that it is possible.

Our approach has also allowed us to gain the confidence of our local partners, the farmers, because what we do is according to the needs they have expressed and they realize that they can leave a healthy land behind as a heritage for their children.

We don’t focus on the number of trees planted but on a change in mentality. When we first approached farmers, they said “I was born here and I’ve not seen anyone plant trees” but with our support they have realized that trees don’t have to disappear. It is not their undeniable fate. With the right techniques, even the species that had disappeared can return.

Q: What challenges have you faced in implementing your approach?

A: When we began, everyone in the villages thought we were crazy to want to fence off lands to restore them. The first partners to accept to be ‘crazy’ like us reaped beautiful results. Donors also had to believe in us and to be patient to observe results, since tree regeneration takes time.

We also faced another challenge: farmers were used to everything being done at the community level, through farmers’ groups, but we insisted on working with households rather than only at the community level. We explained that each household has to take its own responsibilities or the intervention will not work. People were surprised to be asked to sign up as households rather than as a group. If a group fails, its members do not feel personally responsible, but if we sign up to do something as an individual or household and we fail we have nowhere to hide and no one to blame but ourselves. Many farmers refused to partner with us when they realized it would require their personal engagement. Other partners and state agencies were also skeptical of an approach that did not operate through groups.

Q: What would you recommend to other organizations that want to support restoration?

A: I would tell them to remain attentive to what people want and need, those who have degraded lands, where the desert has set in. Ask them: “what would you like to do, why, and how?” As long as those who live in a desert do not consider it a problem, they will leave their trees to die. We really have to hear what those who are affected by the problem have to say, and if we do, positive results are almost guaranteed. Otherwise, even if they plant trees to make us happy, they will not care for them and will not succeed.

Interview conducted by Marlène Elias and Barbara Vinceti

Bioversity International and tiipaalga, together with other national and international research partners initiated in August 2016 a collaborative project to enhance the capacity of rural communities in Burkina Faso to adapt to environmental changes through nutrition-sensitive restoration approaches. The current project will help farmers restore their lands by promoting the sharing and dissemination of locally developed restoration innovations. It will also craft more gender-responsive approaches to restoration by engaging both women and men farmers throughout the process, including in critical decision-making regarding restoration priorities and plans.


The initiative 'Nutrition-sensitive forest restoration to enhance the capacity of rural communities in Burkina Faso to adapt to change' is implemented in collaboration with the burkinabé association tiipaalga, the Institute of Research in Applied Sciences and Technologies (IRSAT) and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). It is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation, with co-financing from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and CGIAR Fund Donors.

This blog is part of a series that Bioversity International is rolling out around COP13 - Mainstreaming Biodiversity for Well-Being. The blogs explain why mainstreaming agricultural and tree biodiversity is critical in sustainable food and production systems if we are to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Action Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 that "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and widely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people".

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Photo: Mr Alain Traoré, Director of tiipaalga. Credit: Bioversity International/M. Elias