Politics of Poverty

A promising moment in Burkina Faso: Will this candidate deliver for women farmers?

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Members of the Taffoga cooperative at work in the gardens in Sirguin, Burkina Faso. In the vegetable plot they have planted cabbages, aubergines, gombo (a local vegetable), onions and garlic, which will begin to yield their crops in a few weeks. Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam

In a nation where approximately 1 in 5 people are food insecure, supporting women farmers is essential.

For the first time since 1966, Burkina Faso has a democratically elected President. The election marked a turning point in what has been a very tumultuous year with moments of amazing optimism and public mobilization as well as very dark, dangerous turns. After 27 years in office and amidst an attempt to extend his rule, President Blaise Compaoré was forced to step down from Office in October, 2014. An interim government took over and a new election date was set. But just before elections were to be held in October 2015, an attempted coup rocked the country. After several tense days, the coup leaders were forced to back down and the delayed elections were rescheduled for November 29th.

Given these political dynamics, it would be reasonable to approach the elections with optimism, but also weariness that the elections would not proceed smoothly or produce clear results. The peaceful outcome is cause for celebration. In all, 14 candidates ran for office. Sixty percent of eligible voters turned out and elected Roch Marc Christian Kaboré the new President of Burkina Faso.

It’s worth pointing all of this out not simply because it holds the potential to bring peace and stability to the country, but also because it promises the opportunity to re-energize focus and attention to people in Burkina Faso most likely to live in poverty – smallholder farmers.

In the run-up to the elections, civil society and peasant organizations working with Oxfam as part of the GROW Campaign began a campaign to encourage candidates to respond to the needs of rural women smallholder farmers. Around the world women farmers are responsible for safeguarding food security and nutrition in their homes and their communities. But they also face barriers in securing the tools and resources they need to sustain their livelihoods. In Burkina Faso, these needs were outlined in a Manifesto, “Ten Steps to Build a Burkina Without Hunger”. A Candidate’s Forum was held featuring representatives for six of the candidates including Kaboré. Each was asked to explain how they would support women smallholder farmers. The candidate’s platforms were then analyzed to determine which candidate had the strongest vision for a Burkina without Hunger. Kabore’s platform attained the highest score among the candidates reviewed.

Approximately 1 in 5 people in Burkina Faso is food insecure, and agriculture remains a major economic driver in the country as well as the primary livelihood of most Burkinabe. The government has been consistently allocating more than 10 percent of the budget to agriculture, exceeding its CAADP commitment. But, the agriculture budget remains heavily donor dependent and there are continuing concerns that not all donor policies and projects are positively contributing to the vision of a food secure Burkina. Policies and investments promoted through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition have been criticized for posing risks to smallholder farmers without clarity on whether they will deliver benefits in terms of increased income and food security.

Moving away from donor dependence will not happen overnight, but here too there are encouraging signs. In a major victory, a new mining code was recently passed that will result in the allocation of one percent of mining revenues to local development funds. This revenue stream can help to improve the sustainability of the government’s budget contribution to the agriculture sector and reduce reliance on donors.

The new government will have the chance and responsibility to pursue an ambitious and meaningful rural agenda. Pledges to achieve a “Burkina without Hunger” have been made, and women have identified what is necessary:

  • improved access for women to land, credit, tools and inputs;
  • better systems (feeding, land use, veterinary and extension services) to improve pastoral livelihoods; and
  • recognition and promotion of local food for local consumption (quality, standards, incentives for producers and affordable prices for consumers, regulation of imports, etc);

Last but not least, as the government renews its commitment to democracy, women are demanding meaningful representation and participation in decision-making bodies that matter for rural development. As a means to hold the new government accountable and to effectively address these demands, this demand from civil society could prove to be the most important demand and outcome of all.

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