“The Man who Stopped the Desert” is a film about farming in Burkina Faso, which we watched on Monday May 23rd, 2011. You can read a summary here http://www.1080films.co.uk/project-mwsd.htm
Read on for details about the country of Burkina Faso:
Burkina Faso is a land-locked country in central West Africa, larger than the UK (274 thousand square kilometres, as against 247 thousand). It is mainly flat or undulating, the average altitude 400 metres above sea level, but with hills in the west and south-east, the highest rising to 750 metres (Ben Nevis is 1344 metres). It has a tropical climate, with warm, dry winters and hot, wet summers. Rainfall averages between 600 and 900 millimetres per year, less in the north, which borders the Sahara desert, and more in the south (England and Wales average 926 mm a year).
The area was first settled more than 7000 years ago, and farming developed by about 3000 BC. Later the area was on the southern fringe of the great medieval West African states, Ghana from about 750 AD, Mali from c1150 and Songhai from c1350. From about 1500 AD the Mossi kingdoms developed in central Burkina. These became a French protectorate in 1896 as part of French West Africa. The French set up the colony of Upper Volta in 1919, built some road, and attempted to establish cotton growing. It became a self-governing colony in 1958, and became independent in 1960.
The first President attempted to create a one-party state, but this caused conflict and led to several military coups through the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984 the country was renamed Burkina Faso, which means “country of upright people”. A final military coup in 1987 brought Blaise Compaoré to power. Since then he has won several Presidential elections (he gained 80% of the vote in 2010) though there are accusations that political activity is severely restricted. There are 17 political parties and several pressure groups, including the Movement for Human Rights, the General Confederation of Labour etc. Earlier this year there were protests in the capital city against rising prices. Several protesters were shot, and a student died in police custody. Elements of the army mutinied. Farmers also protested against the low prices they were able to earn from their products. At the end of April a rally calling for the President’s resignation attracted 3000 people. The next Presidential elections are due in 2015.
The present population is 17 million. 46% are aged under 15, 52% between 15 and 64, and 2.5% 65 and over (in the UK the equivalent figures are 19%, 65% and 16%). About a quarter live in urban areas (80% in the UK)- the main cities are the capital Ougadougou, with 1.7 million people, and Bobo-Dioulasso with 500,000 (in the UK Birmingham has just under a million, and Sheffield about half a million). Burkina is an ethnically well-integrated country, where the Mossi are the largest group, at about 40%. About half the population are Moslem, a fifth Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) mostly living in cities, and the remainder follow traditional African beliefs and practices, which are also followed by many Moslems and Christians.
Population growth is about 3% per year (0.5% in the UK)- the birth rate 44 per 1000 and the death rate 13 per 1000 (12 per 1000 and 10 per 1000 in the UK). Women have an average of 6 children (nearly 2 in the UK). Infant mortality (ie babies dying before their first birthday) is 81 per 1000 live births (4 per 1000 in the UK) and life expectancy at birth 53 years (80 years in the UK). Just over 1 in a hundred people suffer from HIV/AIDS. Only 22% of people over the age of 15 can read and write- 29% of men and 15% of women. Average schooling is six years.
Burkina is one of the world’s poorest countries- if divided equally between all its people each would have roughly the equivalent of US$1200 a year, taking local prices into account ($35,000 in the UK). The poorest 10 percent of the population have 3 percent of the wealth and the richest 10% have 32% (in the UK this is 2% and 29%). Nearly 90 percent of the population depend on agriculture for their living- this has suffered from recurring droughts, overgrazing, soil degradation, deforestation and the growth of the desert. Cotton employs 17% of the population and exports earned over $200 million in 2010, though this is vulnerable to unpredictable world prices. The economy of Bobo-Dioulasso depends on processing cotton (including textiles) and food products. Livestock breeding has also been important, though now is in decline. Several hundred thousand Burkinabés have traditionally gone south for work, and their wages sent home have been an important contribution to the economy. But recent conflicts in Ivory Coast have severely disrupted this.
President Compaoré has followed the advice of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in gradually privatising the economy and attracting foreign investment. The economy is growing at about 5 percent a year. Burkina was one of the first countries to benefit from the debt-reduction programme- its foreign debt is now $2 billion. Gold mining has considerably increased in recent years- nearly 8 tonnes was exported in 2009, earning $380 million, and there were hopes to export 20 tons in 2010. One state-owned organisation that is working well, however, is the National Office for Water and Sanitation. This has been effective in the cities- 94% of Ougadougou now has access to clean water. The country has 620 kilometres of railway (leading to Abijan, the port in Ivory Coast), and 3800 km of paved roads
Exports were $1034 billion in 2010- Singapore, Belgium, China and Ghana the main trading partners. Imports were $1.5 billion, mainly machinery, foodstuff and petroleum- a quarter from Ivory Coast and a fifth from France. Government expenditure is $2.3 billion, 17 percent of the total wealth of the country (at purchasing power equivalent). Revenues are $1.9 billion. International aid is still important as a support to the economy. France also gives support to its police force and training.