February 26. 2024. 6:24

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Problem shared, halved: Bridging knowledge gaps via farming partnerships

Partnerships between countries adapting to the new realities of climate change and soil degradation are key to helping advance sustainable agriculture globally and bridge the knowledge gap, a soil scientist based in Burkina Faso told EURACTIV.

As set out in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, the EU has set out the ambition to support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems.

“Through its external policies […] the EU will pursue the development of Green Alliances on sustainable food systems with all its partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral fora,” the policy reads, adding that this includes cooperation with Africa, as well as neighbours and other parts of the world.

For Bazoumana Koulibaly, agronomist and soil scientist in Burkina Faso, part of the answer could lie in joint research programmes, such as the cotton programme that he has helped set up in the country.

The project, which aims at improving both the sustainability and productivity of cotton production, consists of a partnership between the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the cotton-producing countries of so-called ‘Cotton-4’ – Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad – plus Togo.

Agriculture is a mainstay of Burkina Faso’s economy, with around 82% of the population making their living out of farming activities while the sector makes up 35% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Cotton in particular is Burkina Faso’s largest cash crop.

With an estimated 575,000 hectares of land harvested each year, the country is the largest producer of cotton in Africa, as well as the tenth largest producer of cotton worldwide and the sixth largest cotton exporter in the world.

However, the advent of climate change has seen increasingly erratic rainfall and dry spells which, combined with poor access to agricultural inputs and mechanisation, has left its mark on the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, the World Bank points out that Burkina Faso also faces rapid population growth of 2-3% per year, putting high pressure on natural resources, while wages remain low.

This places cotton high up on the agenda for both Burkina Faso and other sub-Saharan cotton-producing countries, many of which are facing problems of low productivity and competitiveness, Koulibaly explained.

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The project places a focus both on agronomic best practices, as well as improving the economic returns on the crops grown.

This includes placing soil health at the heart of production systems, including implementing biological pest control and minimum tillage, as well as intercropping and the diversification of crops, Koulibaly explained.

While there are still gaps to fill in terms of training and dissemination, as well as some practical hurdles to overcome such as access to seeds, the project has yielded promising results so far.

“What I can say is that it’s been a very good experience with farmers, and also the approach of this project was very large,” he said.

He explained that it was able to “help farmers using good agricultural practice to improve the productivity and to improve also the income” while also improving the diversification of crops in the production system.

For Koulibaly, a key part of the success of the project is the sharing of knowledge and competencies between the cotton-producing countries and Brazil.

“I think that is very important if we can share this information to help farmers to solve the problems that they can meet in the production system,” he said, adding that the next step was to expand the project to involve cotton companies, as well as the country’s ministry of agriculture.