Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Le pari du tracteur

Philippe Tersiguel

Summary. The challenge of the tractor

The modernisation of cotton growing in Burkina Faso

Texte intégral

1Description of the effects of mechanisation on the farming System in holdings in Boho-Kari, a village in the Burkina Faso cotton area in the Sudan zone (annual rainfall 800 mm). The cotton area is a recent destination for people from the north of the country and an older centre for Fulani who have settled at the edges of the villages. The dynamics of the evolution of the region is based essentially on a combination of cotton and mechanisation of farming.

2Cotton production in Burkina Faso tripled in 15 years and reached 150,000 tonnes in 1990. Bovine draught was extended on a large scale during the 1970s and 1980s and motorised draught currently referred to as ‘intermediate motorisation’ and introduced much more recently and on a smaller scale, have had a considerable effect on production. A third of the farms in the cotton area possess bovine draught equipment but only 0.2% have bought tractors.

3Researchers generally accept that the mechanisation of farming enhances the extension of cultivated areas and the ‘extensification’ of crops. This contrasts with the arguments of the development agencies that recommend the intensification of farming through the use of drawn tools and hold that mechanisation makes holdings geographically stable. These two affirmations remain to be proved in the Burkina Faso cotton area.

4Analysis of the effects of mechanisation is applied successively to recent changes in Bwa society and, in the case of the village of Boho-Kari, to changes on cropping Systems and the organisation of space. The second part covers the organisation of labour and incomes. The third part consists of descriptions of several farms. Analysis throughout the study is based on comparison of three levels of equipment: manual cultivation, animal draught and mechanised draught.

Part 1. Changes in Bwa society and agriculture

Bwa society in former times and its recent changes

5The Bwa are culturally a ‘village civilisation’ in which the grouping of the population in autonomous groups governs social organisation. The communities used to be formed of lineages organised in ‘houses’ that each formed a part of the village. The ‘house’ was a collective production unit with single management represented in village institutions. The Bwa society was centred on two poles-the ‘house’, an autonomous basic economic unit, ad the village, forming the political consensus of all the ‘houses’.

6In the past, organisation of Bwa houses was based on the collegial principie and above all on seniority. This provided the legitimate framework for the power of the older people who took the decisions concerning orientations of the group. This gerontocratic power was ranked and it was forbidden to transgress the function of each participant, which was accepted and respected by all. Power was in the hands of the head of the ‘house’, who was free to manage the domestic group as he though fit. His power was nevertheless regulated by the ‘house’ council and, in case of conflict between the head of the ‘house’ and the council, by the village council of elders. The appropriation of incomes and surplus by the elders aggravated conflicts between the generations and a desire for independence among the younger people. The domestic group contained the seeds of its own destruction and this could occur when the voices of the young people succeeded in covering those of the elders.

7These large ‘houses’ no longer exist in Boho-Kari. They were dismantled after the deaths of ‘heads of the houses’, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, and now divided into different segments of lineage. Although some farms still group about thirty people, most consist of a dozen on average. The break-up of the old groups enhanced the disappearance of individual fields because the younger people and the women have been requisitioned for the collective fields of the new farms. The organisation of production and domestic tasks has been considerably simplified and responsibility has been concentrated in the hands of the person running farm operations. He is usually one of the sons of the head of the holding operator and handles all important jobs from the organisation of farm jobs during wintering and the dry seasons to the distribution and allocation of crops and the sharing of income among the workers. The holding operator is generally the oldest person in the group. He manages the person running operations under the supervision of the elders, who always participate in important decisions. The extremely rapid development of draught cultivation has taken place against the background of the dismantling of the ‘houses’ and the formation of smaller production units.

8In village administration, the juxtaposition of two powers-one essentially political and the other essentially religious-is not a fertile field for conflict insofar as the lineages that founded the villages are represented in both camps. Risks of opposition are small and the oldest member of the founding lineage is often both village chief and religious chief. The need to integrate the young people by initiation rites also applies to people from elsewhere who, after a probatory period during which they have shown proof of their desire for integration, participate in the institutions and gain durable access to land. Such integration used to be possible but is much more difficult today in most Bwa villages because of the influx of people from the north of the country. This has reached such a scale that in the reception zones, the arrival of migrants tends to result in the formation of enclaves that are not at all associated with the village and its prospects. These enclaves can in some cases destabilise the autochthonous communities to the extent of compromising their future.

9In Boho-Kari, village community organisation has acquired all the more importance as the disappearance of the old ‘houses’ and the shrinking of domestic groups has become a common phenomenon. The desire of young people for independence, combined with matrimonial compensation for service rather than the exchange of material goods, and a long agrarian tradition, formed the basis for the dismantling of the ‘houses’, the birth of modernised farms and the disparities between the newly created units.

10A numerical ratio favourable to the autochthonous population and the cleavage between the founding lineages and those which arrived later affect access to social functions. Bwa autochthons control the village institutions in which they accept allochthons, but the control of immigration illustrates the desire of the former to prevent a massive influx of strangers. They wish to keep control of local power and land reserves. The legitimacy of Peul presence is based on the complementarity of the farming Systems, with no risk of competition with the autochthonous population. The herders possess the skills necessary for handling large herds and are the main suppliers of draught oxen. At Boho-Kari, the conditions are favourable for the diffusion of draught cultivation since there are considerable reserves of land and available draught cattle. In addition, cotton growing can provide financing for the equipment and Bwa society can accept new production techniques.

The effects of mechanisation on cropping systems

11In the Bwa area, farming used to form a geographical ring-shaped pattern around the village, with an ‘intensification gradient’. In each ring-compound field, village field and bush field-a specific type of farming was used with a great variety of crops and working methods. The ‘compound field’ was used for early crops used for food during transition periods when cereal crops were generally exhausted. The ‘village field’ formed the main basis for agriculture and was planted with the broadest range of crops. When the villages fields were in upland areas with light, gravelly, permeable soils, they were planted with maize, white and red sorghum, millet, beans, peas and peanuts or hungry rice. When they were in bottom land, the farmers grew rice, late maize, sweet potato, yam, taro or tobacco. The village field was fertilised with stable manure. The size of the fields depended in the number of livestock. Regular return of organic matter enabled continuous cultivation of the village fields, which benefited from numerous, repeated cultural operations and formed the basis of the reputations of Bwa farmers.

12The ‘bush field’ was larger and more remote and did not receive the same attention. It was formed using slash and bum techniques and the duration of cultivation was limited by the obtaining of good harvests. No organic fertiliser was applied and cultivation was followed by several decades of fallow.

13The old cropping Systems yielded a varied diet for the lineage group. The degrees of earliness and the rich variety of plants enabled the spreading of cropping and hence of labour over a period of several months. Early crops provided food during the low season and the surplus in good years was stored against shortages. In the 1950s, changes in the cropping System resulted in smaller number of crop plants and especially a decrease in plants taken from Southern populations, such as yam, sweet potato, cassava, taro and forest tubers. During this period, each village specialised in a cash crop-peanut, cotton, tobacco or sesame-grown on a small scale. Cotton became increasingly important in subsequent decades and the areas increased continuously. In the early 1970s, the farmers set out to clear new bush areas and switched massively to cotton.

14The dismantling of the old lineage production groups resulted in the constitution of a large number of small farms, although some still used several tens of persons. The average holding area was over 8 ha in 1988 in Boho-Kari. However, the average is not very significant since spectacular diversification of farms took place with the introduction of cotton and mechanisation. Agricultural equipment became concentrated in farms with substantial labour and its sophistication increased with the number of workers. The average area of holdings in the farm category using manual cultivation, totalling 40% of farms, is 2.36 ha. These non-equipped holdings are cultivated by old farmers with no successors, by young people who just left a larger holding or by Peul livestock operators/farmers in the process of settling down. Sorghum is the main crop in this farm category and cotton and maize share half of the area. A third of plantings are combinations of plants-the vestiges of forgotten techniques.

15Animal draught is used on half of the village farms. Cotton is clearly dominant in this category, accounting for half of the crops. Cotton and maize are grown on 80% of the land and other crops play only very small roles. The average age of operators is less than 30 years in this category. Animal traction, combined with the youth of the workers means that 50% more land is cultivated per worker than in the preceding group. The adoption of animal traction is an occasion for substantial enlargement of the area cultivated.

16Motorised farms are operated solely by autochthonous Bwa farmers. The seven motorised holdings group a fifth of the village population and cultivate 30% of the land. They use substantial labour with an average of 2 ha of land cultivated per worker. In this category, cotton and maize cover almost the whole of the area (over 90%); there is a little sorghum and peanut but almost all the other crops have completely disappeared. Sorghum and millet are conserved because they are needed for socio-religious rites. Sorghum is also used for making the beer consumed in large quantities by the farmers, to such an extent that alcoholism is a major public health problem.

17In land organisation, the development of mechanisation enhances the race for the best land and makes it easier to farm deeper, heavier land where yields are higher than in the older farmland near the village. The supply of good agricultural land is limited but not all has been put to use since the advent of draught tools. The farmers are thus attempting to form land stocks by cumulating cropping rights to the plots that they have successively cultivated in the past. Although the permanent land tenure rights of the autochthonous lineages that founded the villages are recognised by custom, cultivation rights override the right of ‘collective appropriation’ of land and are in contradiction with the traditional management of land by lineage. Recently-cultivated plots returned to fallow traditionally rejoined the holdings of the lineage under the authority of the land chief but are now claimed by the cultivators. This individual strategy aimed at gaining control of larger areas tends to reduce the cultivation period of the plots by several years. It is therefore logical that the techniques proposed by development agencies aimed at rendering production sustainable by the application of organic matter are discarded. Joining the race for the best land means that farmers must limit cultivation of fields in time and concentrate on intensive techniques which give immediate results and abandon long term soil improvement methods.

18The land rush-enhanced by mechanisation-is accompanied by much clearing. Fire is still the indispensable complement to labour, and although the farmers try to save a few useful trees and the bush around cultivated fields, large cultivation blocks are cleared in remote bush and most of the trees are removed. Farmers keep only 8 to 16 trees per ha according to the level of equipment. Such low density results from the use of ploughs, requiring full grubbing up and the removal of all roots. After this arduous clearing, almost all the land is tilled with drawn ploughs although 40% of holdings do not possess farm equipment.

19The plough is thus the cause of the crop extension and enhances the development of cotton and maize at the expense of a complex set of secondary crops. The cotton-maize combination is visible physically as a chequerboard pattern in the landscape. The surplus grain produced provides almost continuous food security whatever the climatic conditions of the year, but a single maize dish has replaced a previously varied diet. A complete absence of organised grain markets makes it impossible to sell maize at steady prices. Finally, the formation of herds of cattle on mechanised farms indicates the beginnings of diversification of production and the incorporation of animal husbandry in arable farming operations.

Part 2. Agricultural mechanisation and economic differentiation

20Mechanisation substantially reduces labour time per unit of area and contributes to a distinct increase in labour productivity. Manual work is still dominant on mechanised holdings. Of 100 days of labour, only 5 and 7 respectively are devoted to work with machinery in holdings with motorised or animal traction. Most days are therefore spent on manual labour. However, the effectiveness of drawn equipment in reducing the manual labour time devoted to a given area is obvious. The effectiveness of mechanisation can be shown by a synthetic index giving the number of days of manual labour required by a ‘composite hectare’ representative of the different crops for each level of farm equipment. One ‘composite hectare’ requires 120, 103 and 74 days of labour with manual, animal-drawn and tractor-drawn cultivation respectively. The acquisition of draught oxen and then a small tractor enables a saving of 14% and 38% in manual labour times during cultivation.

21The improvement of labour productivity is at the expense of the women in motorised holdings. Women traditionally only help occasionally in field work but carry out all sowing and harvesting and carry the grain to the village. Today, women are the main group affected by mechanisation and their rest periods have dwindled. Use of a tractor means 25 days extra labour per year for a woman, although the tractor is used in grinding the grain and transporting water, wood and sand. Considerable demands are made on the women throughout the crop cycle from sowing to threshing. In contrast, the men’s working times are very similar in manual cultivation and on farms possessing a tractor, and possibly slightly shorter in the latter case even though the area per head of labour is three times as large.

22Work is organised throughout the year on the basis of farm production and rest periods are subject to the work requirements in the fields. There are three labour peaks. The first is the weeding period and the second is the grain harvest. The last and most important is the cotton harvest, which finishes in March on motorised farms. Harvesting requires the most labour on mechanised farms.

23Mechanisation also induces increased complexity in crop management sequences and requires new skills so that the numerous cultivation operations can be mastered. After tillage, the farmer measures and marks off the plots and then uses a drill marker. The women sow the cotton or maize in holes. The plants are subsequently thinned. Most sowing is carried out by hand, but operators who possess a tractor and a seed drill may sow mechanically. Later, three weeding operations are generally required, but may be reduced by herbicide application as long as the product has been purchased during the dry season and delivered on time. Herbicide application is part of a reasoned strategy of maximum use of labour during weeding. The crops are earthed up during the second weeding operation and insecticide is sprayed at regular intervals. Finally, the simplification of the cropping System mentioned above is accompanied by the strengthening of management sequences and increased use of fertiliser and crop Chemicals.

24However, success and good mastery of cultural operations lie in the acquisition of new skills. The ability to anticipate events that have become more frequent than in the past because of the increase in cultivated areas and to forecast their effects is becoming essential for good management of farming. Pesticide application must be planned rigorously to achieve good results and possibly to avoid serious damage caused by erroneous dosage. Planning input purchases, use of labour and occasionally investments must be carried out several months in advance and cash income set aside for the purpose when the income from the preceding season is shared out. The use of machines requires new technical skills in adjustment and maintenance. Finally, the skill in tillage which in the past made the reputation of Bwa farmers is still indispensable but now second to everyday management and planning.

25Mechanisation also enhances unequal labour exchanges and the appearance of agricultural wage-earners. At Boho-Kari, motorised farms benefit considerably from the work of non-equipped farmers within the framework of exchanges of services. One hour of tractor tillage is generally exchanged for six days of manual labour, but the rate may vary according to the relations of dependence between the two parties. The farmers who own tractors are members of the autochthonous lineages that founded the village and, in addition to farm machinery, possess access to bush land. They carry out ploughing and part of the threshing for small farmers and award new land use rights. The small farmers must therefore show allegiance if they wish to benefit from the equipment for heavy jobs-billed to them in most cases-and hope to be awarded new plots of land in the future. From this point of view, agricultural mechanisation strengthens social relations of dependence between farms.

26Most of the paid labour is recruited outside the village. The Mossi farmers at the edge of the area are called upon for cutting cotton plant stems and cleaning fields after the harvest or for the major rainy season jobs. They recently came to the cotton area and often live under precarious conditions and form a cheap source of labour available at any time. Likewise, the Peul cattle herders hired for the year and paid on a contract basis in motorised farms look after family herds that have become too large to be kept in the village.

27The traditional crop combinations based on proximity, friendly relations or membership of the same age group are no longer a regular rainy season feature. They only come into play during exceptional events such as deaths or accidents. However, they are very active during the dry season for loading the trucks that take the cotton to the ginning mill. The decline of mutual aid based on work associations is the result of the individualisation of production and the possibility of performing all cultivation operations using the facilities on the holding.

28The effects of mechanisation on production and income are varied. Mechanisation increased harvest volume and labour productivity at Boho-Kari in the 1988-1989 season. The villagers’food requirements were covered by 20% of total production and so 80% of production was sold. All the cotton and 80% of the maize were sold. Increased use of inputs and the number of cultural operations combined with the use of drawn machines resulted in an increase in yields on the mechanised farms. The differences between manual cultivation, animal draught and tractor draught are clear. However, observation of the results on a large number of motorised farms over a six-year period throughout the cotton area in western Burkina Faso moderates the performances at Boho-Kari. Comparison on a regional basis of the performance of farmers possessing a tractor with those possessing only animal draught shows that the increase in yield between tractor-drawn and oxen-drawn cultivation is no longer significant. The only substantial increase in production recorded was between manual cultivation and use of animal draught.

29When the technical facilities are mastered, mechanisation induces great variability in income. At Boho-Kari in the 1988-1989 season, the average agricultural income, after deduction of all costs, was 64,517 CFA francs per worker and formed 84% of the overall farm income. Animal husbandry, honey, crafts and jobbing are minor sources of income in comparison with farming. The differentiation in farms by area mentioned above is confirmed by income classification, with a range running from CFAF 5,000 to CFAF 4,200,000. The income gradient is regular with this ratio of 1:800. Such impressive differences were unknown in the region before tractors were introduced and are the result of a voluntary policy of differentiation of holdings. The lowest incomes are concentrated in holdings with manual cultivation and the medium incomes in holdings where draught oxen are used. Although the highest incomes are earned by motorised farms, the group is now displaying a very broad dispersion with both loss-making farms and farms with excellent results. The gap between the extremes is even more marked when the regional results are observed. The large investment involved in the purchase of a tractor results in per-ha structural costs that are seven times those of a farm with animal draught. These much higher costs result from the depreciation of the equipment and financial costs.

30Finally, the overall incomes per unit area in motorised farms in the region are half of those of animal draught farms at Boho-Kari and income per worker is comparable when calculated over six consecutive agricultural seasons. The economic risk is therefore substantial, especially as the meteorological conditions rule out any hope for regular results. The results of motorisation speak for themselves and the large subsidies awarded for the development of the technique through projects initiated in numerous countries (Senegal, Mali, Côte d’ivoire, Burkina Faso, etc.) should be reconsidered, especially as there is little local economic spillover. Transfer of the subsidies to the organisation of the extension of animal draught with respect of the environment would be more judicious. Nevertheless, small-scale agricultural motorisation may be a line of development for a few farmers who master the techniques. The good results obtained by several Boho-Kari farmers illustrate the formidable ability of tractors to increase monetary surplus tenfold when the technical aspects are mastered.

Part 3. The farmers

31Observation of a series of six examples of farms shows the conditions required for the long-term adoption of mechanical facilities. The main condition for sustainable farm mechanisation-in addition to the prerequisite of saving money to buy the equipment-can be summarised as the existence of a commercial crop that can bring in cash income. In western Burkina Faso, the sale of cotton by a stable agency at a guaranteed price known to growers at the beginning of the season and with payment a few months after delivery meets this requirement. The System is completed by the supply of inputs at the start of the rainy season with the cost of short-term credit retained on the selling price of the supplies. Financing the equipment also means that farmers must have access to medium-term agricultural credit with favourable conditions.

32Family labour is the main constraint for farms. A weakness or reduction in the labour force leads to delays in the completion of cultural operations and a work overload with inevitable effects on production. Preparation, sowing, thinning and the first weeding operations are bottlenecks than can be partly removed by the use of drawn machinery or herbicide. However, although cultural operations can be mechanised, harvesting is carried out by hand and depends above all on the labour available. Keeping young workers and enlarging the family by the marriage of the holding operator or his dependants are the main ingredients of the strategy of the head of a family. The operator must maintain strong cohesion between the different households to prevent any of them from leaving the farm. Using outside workers on an exchange or wage-earning basis is possible if the farm is earning a good income. Finally, access to land is the final handicap for the development of mechanisation. Farms holding land tenure rights can form stable operations recognised by the community while the others have to make do with more precarious conditions.

33The evolution of farm production in the cotton area leaves the observer in doubt. Although animal draught forms decisive, irreversible progress, the specialisation in a cropping System in which cotton and maize play major roles has a series of harmful effects that farmers cannot fail to notice. These are agronomic, with the development of cotton pests and the selection of weeds in plots, economic, with the difficulty of marketing the maize crop and the impoverishment of family diets, and finally ecological with the enlargement of areas causing soil erosion and a worsening deficit in organic matter. In the present farming System, the restoration of soil fertility is based on long fallow but this is now called into question by the massive arrival of migrants.

34Although cotton is rightly considered to be the greatest economic success in the past three decades in West Africa, regular strict analysis of the consequences of the spread of the crop should make it possible to avoid prestige operations and enhance the implementation of a sustainable development policy for the majority of farmers.

© IRD Éditions, 1995

Conditions d’utilisation :