Well, it’s been almost 8 months since I first arrived in Burkina and about 4 months since my last post so I reckon it’s time for us to reconnect. Sound good? Wicked.
My last post dealt almost entirely with Engineers without Boarders’ / Ingénieures sans frontières ‘(ISF’s) strategy in Burkina Faso so I’ll delve more into the set up of my actual placement with this post. This ought to give the two people reading this blog a better understanding of the context I’ve been working in for the last 7 months.
Prelude to a Placement
Upon arrival into this beautiful hot and dusty country it was yet to be determined where exactly I would be based. ISF has continually strived to maximize its impact on the sector it chooses it work in within its partner countries. In order to do so, it has to go about conducting a fair bit of ground work. In the case of Burkina Faso and ISF’s Entrepreneuriat Rural Agricole (ERA) team, as we’re called, this involves looking at the agricultural sector, figuring out who the major players are and tallying their respective strengths and weaknesses. Also important is gauging a prospective partner’s willingness to change and their openness to constructive criticism as these aspects contribute directly to the depth of positive change we can bring about.
In Burkina, one of the players selected for partnership with ISF was the FEPA/B or Fédération des Professionnels d’Agricoles du Burkina. I reckon they were primarily selected for the fact that they are the largest farmer federation in Burkina, having adhering farmer unions established in 37 out of Burkina’s 45 provinces. They are also in the early stages of developing their CEF (Conseille d’exploitation familial) program giving ISF an opportunity to play a large role in the conception, testing and adaptation process. The CEF approach aims at instilling a business-like mindset in farmers with respect to how they go about minding their family farms. The idea is to move from subsistence farming to farming as a business. You can read more about the CEF approach in my previous post entitled “The Nitty Gritty”.
The goal of FEPA/B national federation is to provide various services (trainings, projects, access to inputs etc) to small holder farmers. To do this they are affiliated with external donors who fund projects which the FEPA/B then oversee and coordinate down through their structure from provincial unions (UPPAs) to departmental unions (UDPAs) and finally to farmer groups at the village level. The principal donors of the FEPA/B are AFDI (Agriculteurs français et développement international) and Agriterra.
ISF’s partnership with the FEPA/B is structured so that volunteers are embedded with various unions at the provincial level (UPPAs). The idea is that we diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of our respective unions, share lessons learned and work together on joint initiative projects. Generally speaking, our mandate is to improve the efficiency with which these unions operate as well as the effectiveness of the services they provide to their members. The selection process, used to decide which unions would receive an ISF volunteer involved recommendations from the FEPA/B, an onsite visit from our team co-director Florian, and a questionnaire aimed at having the union identify their own strengths, and weaknesses. Results were tallied and the final UPPAs were selected by members of the technical staff at the FEPA/B federation offices.
Our first month on the ground is considered as “in-country” training, where among other assignments, we were given exploration projects to familiarize ourselves with the agricultural sector in Burkina. By the end of this month our partner unions were finally selected and unveiled to us. I was to be partnered with the UPPA in the south central province of Nahouri. Honestly I was stoked; I’d heard good things about this union. It had a dynamic woman president who also happens to be the vice president of the actual FEPA/B federation. The union is also located in a high productivity zone for maize and, being close to the Ghana boarder, was apparently looking into trade opportunities with markets in the Northern region. Sweet. Then I was told this union was based in a village called Youkka in the department of Ziou. Strange. Usually provincial unions are based in the provincial capital or at the very least large towns that are centrally based so as to be able to easily support departmental unions within the province. Also being based in a town usually means better access to financial and training institutions, NGOs, larger markets, and in terms of human resources, access to individuals with higher levels of education. Ok, a bit odd,
but do continue. Finally I’m told that the village the provincial union is based in doesn’t have electricity. Outstanding. When I heard this I honestly thought the team leads were just taking the piss out of me. Both Frenchmen were practically on the floor paralyzed by laughter. As it turns out, the French seem to have a perverse sense of humor. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have immediate reservations about being based in a village with no electricity for the next 11 months. Already, having to work in my second language is a challenge and a bit of a drain on efficiency. Now, having to work with limited access to electricity, in relatively harsh conditions, yet still having the same performance expectations as other APS (volunteers) was slightly alarming. Nevertheless, in the spirit of whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, rolling with the punches, sucking it up, building character and all that jazz, I geared up and on Christmas eve ’09 made my way down to the village of Youkka, in the department of Ziou, found in the province of Nahouri, Burkina Faso.
"Whal-lai la vie en Burkina n’est pas facile mais ca va aller!"
"*Et Dieu est grande*"