Human Vulnerability to Climate Variability in the Sahel: Farmers' Adaptation Strategies in Northern Burkina Faso
In this study, the authors investigate farmers’ vulnerability to climate variability and evaluate local adoption of technology and farmers’ perceptions of adaptation strategies to rainfall variability and policies. A survey was conducted in a community in northern Burkina Faso following the crop failure of 2004. In 2006, following a better harvest, another survey was conducted to compare farmers’ actions and reactions during two contrasted rainy seasons. The results confirm that farmers from this community have substantially changed their practices during the last few decades. They have adopted a wide range of techniques that are intended to simultaneously increase crop yield and reduce yield variability. Micro water harvesting (Zaï) techniques have been widely adopted (41%), and a majority of fields have been improved with stone lines (60%). Hay (48%) and sorghum residues are increasingly stored to feed animals during the dry season, making bull and sheep fattening now a common practice. Dry season vegetable production also involves a majority of the population (60%). According to farmers, most of the new techniques have been adopted because of growing land scarcity and new market opportunities, rather than because of climate variability. Population pressure has reached a critical threshold, while land scarcity, declining soil fertility and reduced animal mobility have pushed farmers to intensify agricultural production. These techniques reduce farmers’ dependency on rainfall but are still insufficient to reduce poverty and vulnerability. Thirty-nine percent of the population remains vulnerable after a good rainy season. Despite farmers’ desire to remain in their own communities, migrations are likely to remain a major source of regular income and form of recourse in the event of droughts.