In the Bombonyenga village in the Eastern Region of Burkina Faso, there was a large compost boom. The success in compost creation across the village was a matter of will power, involvement and getting the right techniques.
Sorghum and cowpea are the main crops in Bombonyenga. Pierre Larba Yarga, a lead conservation farming producer and advocate in the village, explained how it used to be easy to make a living from the land, but with the drought it has become harder. When presented with a potential solution, he explains, of course compost caught on quickly.
“We were able to benefit from training that allowed us to improve our yields and that’s how, since last year, our families have been able to have enough to eat. We were also provided with improved seeds, adapted to the climate,” Pierre said.
To increase the resilience of farmers and their families and the land in Burkina Faso and Niger, the USAID | REGIS-ER project, led by NCBA CLUSA, supports the development of conservation farming, a technique contributing to soil fertility in combination with farmer-manager natural regeneration. The project aims to promote the establishment of this type of agricultural system because it is both sustainable and profitable, and can tangibly improve the living conditions for farmers faced with these challenges. As part of this, REGIS-ER trainers started compost training in 2015 and 2016 to encourage compost production after the 2015 rainy season, in order to benefit from standing water and the availability of straws, grasses and crop residues.
“When it does not rain for more than a week, you’d be amazed to see how quickly the soil dries up!" Pierre said. "It’s utter desolation. And you don’t know what to do about it if you haven’t learned Conservation Farming technology." Before, he described, many famers spread manure randomly on the plot, and when it rained, the water would wash it all away towards the low points in the field. During training, farmers were strongly encouraged to use compost, shown how to prepare it and how to place it on the soil just before the first rains.
“That's what I did, and after the first rains I seeded where I had placed the compost. And I showed the other villagers the whole process. It gave us an opportunity to change our ways of doing things," Pierre said.
The movement to compost was extremely strong in Bombonyenga. Pierre went around to the traditional leaders, made presentations at places of worship and spoke with people across the village. With support from the local REGIS-ER trainer, he was able to get a lot of people to understand the benefits of composting, and touted it as a good way to use animal waste as well.
“It makes your courtyard clean and at the same time it improves your harvest,” Pierre said of his compost pitch.
The village chief, Yimbiman Bourgou, noticed Pierre's work and asked him to come and explain the technique to him in more detail.
"I saw an opportunity for my village to develop. I started practicing conservation farming myself and asked the villagers to do the same. That's [the story of] our success!" Yimbiman said. Getting the village chief on board opened the door for spreading the technique across the village. With buy-in at the community level, compost was about to take off. In all, the residents created 366 piles of compost in the village—far exceeding the number of conservation farming (CF) producers directly targeted by USAID | REGIS-ER support. There was clear enthusiasm spreading beyond the initial trained groups. Among these "composters" were more than 150 women. They were among the first to grasp the importance of this new way of doing things and, above all, the urgency to act.
In October 2016, Bombonyenga Village received USAID | REGIS-ER’s Compost Prize award to reflect the value of the community investment in the technique and to encourage other villages.
In 2016, towards the end of the rainy season, the region experienced less rain than usual. This caused a major environmental shock at harvest time. However, in fields where CF was practiced, the yields were still good.
"By applying the technique I was able to get two waves of harvests. The light rains did not stop me. Imagine for a moment that it had rained normally, I would have harvested three times more! One thing is certain: I harvested far more than those who didn’t apply the CF technique. As it works, I’ll continue to practice this way of doing things," said Dahari Lankoandé, Lead Producer of a women's CF group.
For Bombonyenga village, on almost 22 hectares of sorghum, farmers were able to produce on average more than two tons of sorghum per hectare, compared to the "non-CF" fields that only produced 0.8 in the same area. Similarly for cowpea: CF producers obtained an average yield of almost double compared to their traditional fields.
On average, a household consumes 1,330 kg of cereals per year. The increased production, thanks to conservation farming, contributed 13 percent to achieving food security for those households that practiced CF in the village, despite the average size of land under CF being less than half hectare per person. As the yields prove true, farmers are looking to expand.
The neighboring communities have all heard of the experience—and success—of Bombonyenga, and residents have become conservation farming and compost advocates.
Palpouguini Bourgou, from the neighboring village of Komyari, was convinced. "It’s superb, and I want the same thing in our village, so that we too can have enough to eat. You've seen for yourself how such dry, unusable land can produce in this way and that is really good. Their sorghum reached full maturity before ours! They won’t need to buy food since their production was good. On the contrary, they will sell their surplus to the others,” Palpouguini said.
Echoing what others are seeing, Pierre continues to spread the conservation farming and compost techniques around his community. "I can’t do without this technology since it helped me take good care of my family. The technology of conservation agriculture has considerably changed our lives and I hope many people will adopt it,” he said.