By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Over the last three decades, Burkina Faso's poorest farmers have produced food for half a million people by restoring some 300,000 hectares of degraded land with innovative techniques to conserve water and soil, according to a report on Wednesday.
The UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) thinktank said Burkina Faso's subsistence farmers were leading the fight against climate change in the West African country, which is prone to severe droughts and increasingly erratic rainfall.
Amanda Lenhardt, research officer at the ODI, said farmers on the edge of the Sahel belt in Burkina Faso's Central Plateau region had made major strides in offsetting the worst impacts of climate change in "one of the world's most fragile areas".
"While malnutrition and poverty remain major problems in Burkina Faso, the fact that farmers can still produce food during extreme droughts has helped the region to avoid famine," Lenhardt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The reclamation of unproductive lands in such a climatically vulnerable region by resource-constrained farmers is an achievement by any standards," she said by telephone from Ouagadougou.
Landlocked Burkina Faso ranks 181 out of 187 countries in the U.N. Human Development Index, and remains one of the world's poorest nations.
RESTORATION OF ARABLE LAND
The ODI said the restoration of up to 10 percent of Burkina Faso's arable land in the Central Plateau region was even more remarkable considering that a third of the world's productive land was experiencing degradation.
Lenhardt said it was vital that restoring degraded land with sustainable techniques took off in other regions of Burkina Faso, given the importance of agriculture, which accounts for almost 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product and employs 85 percent of the population.
Lenhardt said information about the ever-improving sustainable techniques, which include using ditches to collect water, had been disseminated by farmers' groups and national organizations to great effect.
It was important to ensure the practices were implemented within communities, rather than just being introduced to individual farmers, she added.
"There must be discussions with farmers from the ground up, instead of visiting organizations simply imposing their ideas," Lenhardt said.
"Burkina Faso is in a unique situation in the respect that it has strong social and community networks, and these must be utilized to make an impact nationally, which will take time," she added.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Katie Nguyen)