Ouagadougou — The seeds were sown, and the harvest is beginning to come in. Burkina Faso farmers are reaping the benefits of their government's programme to develop and popularise improved varieties of maize.
New, high-yielding varieties of the staple crop have been developed at the country's Institute for the Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA) as part of a drive to improve food security in this landlocked West African country.
"If we want to achieve food self-sufficiency, we need quality seeds and to strengthen the capacities of producers," said André Bationo, an agriculture researcher at the University of Ouagadougou.
Fill the granaries
Mathieu Kabré is among the farmers who have adopted one new maize variety, known as Bondofa, meaning "fill the granary" in Dioula, one of the country's indigenous languages. He is growing maize on ten hectares he farms with help from his cousins near the village of Nagréongo, in the central part of the country.
"When I abandoned the traditional varieties, I chose Bondofa based on advice from agricultural trainers," Kabré told IPS.
"Bondofa can yield up to 12 tonnes per hectare instead of five to seven tonnes from traditional varieties," said Inoussa Balboné, an agriculture expert.
"What's more, traditional seeds have a growing cycle of over 90 days, while the improved seeds need, on average, 70 days from planting to harvest," he told IPS.
Kabré harvested 90 tonnes of Bondofa maize from his farm in 2010. In 2011, he did even better, harvesting 100 tonnes from his ten hectares.
Issaka Kaboré, a 34-year-old migrant from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, rents six hectares of land near Loumbila, 12 kilometres east of the capital, Ouagadougou. He told IPS that his 2009 harvest from traditional seed varieties was just over thirty tonnes. But he also switched to Bondofa seed two years ago.
"In 2010, I harvested 50 tonnes and then I got 57 tonnes in 2011. This year, I'm hoping for 60," said Kaboré.
Both Kabré and Kaboré were introduced to Bondofa when they became members of Burkina Faso's National Union of Seed Producers (UNPSB) two years ago. The UNPSB was established in 2006, and coordinates production and marketing activities as well as acting as an interface between its 4,000 members and the government.
The new seed is one of a dozen new varieties issuing from work being done at INERA. "Our ambition is to find ways to establish the country as an exporter of seeds in the sub-region," said Robert Ouédraogo, from the agriculture ministry.
The ministry is playing an active role in supporting farmers as they adopt the new seed. The Ministry for Agriculture and Water buys maize from producers - trained and supported by extension workers - and resells it to consumers at a discounted price.
"In addition to giving us training in applying technological innovations, the government buys maize from us at 170,000 CFA francs (around 320 dollars) a tonne, while on the open market, the traditional variety sells for around 13,000 CFA per tonne (245 dollars)," said Kaboré.
And it's paying off for farmers. In 2010, Kaboré spent about 5,700 dollars on fertiliser and on workers' salaries during planting and harvesting. After covering costs, his 50 tonnes of maize earned him a profit of 7,500 dollars.
The following year, he said, he paid a retired agricultural extension worker 940 dollars to help improve his yield. The investment paid off, and Kaboré sold 55 tonnes of maize and cleared a profit of 9,000 dollars.
The growing profits have also allowed Kaboré to service a 7,500 dollar loan from a credit union. He has paid back around 2,800 dollars in each of the past three years.
Looking to the future
Kabré has also looked to invest his profits in expanding his operations. "I have built up savings of six million CFA (11,320 dollars) over the past two years. I'm going to set up my younger brother as a farmer as well," he told IPS. To this end, he has purchased an additional five hectares of land for around 1,900 dollars.
He has also enrolled his son, Jacob, in an agriculture school in neighbouring Ghana. The farmer said he wants to make his son heir to a "future seed empire".
Like many other farmers, Kabré and Kaboré want larger fields so they can produce more as well as diversify their crops. Both plan to buy more land in the southeast of the country and set up modern farms. Kabré wants to raise 75,000 dollars for his project; Kaboré's even more ambitious plans call for over 94,000 dollars of capital.
"The earth doesn't lie; if you have the means, it will never betray you," said Kabré.