Smallholder farmers in Burkina Faso: fighting land degradation from the ground up
26 May 2021
The United Nations defines Sustainable Land Management as the use of land resources, including soils, water, animals and plants, for the production of goods to meet changing human needs, while simultaneously ensuring the long-term productive potential of these resources and the maintenance of their environmental functions.
Rapid population growth generates increasing demand on agricultural production, resulting in mounting pressure on the soils, forests, rivers, plants, and animals that we depend on for healthy food systems.
In the 12 RFS countries, households living in extreme poverty in rural areas rely on subsistence farming for their food and livelihoods with few alternative options. Smallholder farmers are often caught in low productivity traps whereby unsustainable agriculture and livestock rearing practices deplete and degrade natural resources, which, in turn, compromises ecosystem services and results in pervasive low agricultural yields.
This cycle renders rural smallholder farmers extremely vulnerable to climate change, climate variability, and extreme weather events. Increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, droughts and flooding directly impact land health by increasing erosion, drying soils, and destroying vegetation cover. This leads to a further decline in agricultural productivity. When paired with rapidly growing populations, these climate impacts often drive an expansion and intensification of agricultural production on already degraded land.
SLM incorporates a wide variety of approaches, including Climate-Smart Agriculture, Conservation Agriculture and agro-ecological approaches, to protect, conserve and rehabilitate natural resources. SLM approaches work to restore ecosystem functioning and promote the sustainable use of natural resources in order to ensure the productive capacity of these resources now and in the future. By improving the health and productive capacity of natural resources within communities, SLM approaches aim to improve agricultural yields, enabling smallholder farmers to achieve food and nutritional security and improve their livelihoods.
In addition to achieving beneficial socio-economic outcomes for communities, SLM practices improve ecosystem functioning and protect biodiversity. SLM interventions focus on improving water availability, improving soil health, and reducing biodiversity loss. These focus areas are particularly significant when it comes to adapting to climate change and reducing vulnerability to extreme weather events. For example, by introducing crop cover and improving the water retention of soil, smallholder farmers can simultaneously improve yields while increasing resilience to increases in temperature, decreases in rainfall, and drought. By reducing deforestation, improving livestock management, and promoting agroforestry approaches, SLM further contributes to global climate change mitigation efforts.
Sustainable Land Management incorporates a wide variety of approaches that work to increase land productivity, improve water availability and water use efficiency, improve soil fertility, prevent and rehabilitate land degradation, improve management of plants and livestock, and improve biodiversity. Within these approaches are common practices and technologies: improvement in plant varieties, minimum soil disturbance, vegetation management, soil erosion control, water harvesting, and agroforestry, amongst others.
RFS country projects teams are facilitating the adoption of a wide range of practices and technologies through interventions that are tailored to the specific country context. For example, in Niger, Malawi, and Tanzania, country project teams are establishing and capacitating community committees to develop and implement local plans for natural resource and rehabilitation management. In Burundi and Uganda, FAO is using the Farmer Field School approach to train farmers in soil and water conservation, establish demonstration plots and conduct field visits to share best practices and develop smallholder capacity in applying successful practices.
Explore the RFS Country Projects to see more examples of how RFS countries are implementing Sustainable Land Management activities.
Stories from the Field
Explore our stories from the field to learn more about how RFS country project teams are implementing activities related to the programmatic theme of Sustainable Land Management.
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To achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, the government of Burkina Faso, with support from IFAD, has been applying top-down and bottom-up approaches simultaneously.
At the “top”, the national government has been working to integrate land degradation neutrality targets into planning frameworks, translating national-level targets into actionable plans at the local level. At the “bottom”, smallholder farmers play a central role through a community-led, locally-owned approach that focuses on capacity development and empowering farmers within their communities.
This brief, the latest product within the RFS Knowledge Management Series, highlights good practices that have emerged from the Burkina Faso project. It also outlines lessons learned that could be integrated into projects facing similar challenges related to land degradation, low agricultural productivity and food insecurity.
FAO and the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) have published a new handbook, Enabling Sustainable Food Systems. The handbook draws lessons from a group of innovators from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe who are leading initiatives to grow, share, sell and consume more sustainable foods in their local communities. The innovations within the handbook are organised into four categories: engaging consumers, producing sustainably, getting products to market and getting organised.
The report was officially launched at the 3rd Global Conference of Sustainable Food Systems held by the One Planet network. The event, which took place on 3 December 2020, was organised by FAO, INRAE, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and RFS. It featured presentations from around the world that showcased local innovations that have had a big impact on building sustainable food systems.
This new FAO publication highlights the importance of sustainably managed agro-ecosystems and biodiversity in supporting longer-term adaptation and food security objectives, and illustrates good practices across ecosystems as showcased during the Ecosystem-based Adaptation in the agriculture sector webinar series.
The publication further emphasizes that ecosystem-based adaptation solutions should be based on participatory, inclusive and trans disciplinary approaches that promote locally appropriate strategies built on the nexus between scientific and traditional knowledge. Such solutions should also be strengthened through adaptive research, including deepening the understanding of the impacts of climate change and land use on ecosystems and their specific functions, as well as incentive and financial mechanisms that support adoption and uptake by food producers.
The Knowledge Centre is a central platform for sharing resources and information generated by the 12 Resilient Food Systems country projects and Regional Hub.
Within the Knowledge Centre, you can find helpful resources, tools, case studies, and news stories related to the different countries and themes of the Resilient Food Systems programme.