are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)|
Namwaya Sawadogo: the ecologist of Touroum, Burkina Faso 
Agroforestry, composting, mixed farming, natural resources, resource management, silviculture
Introducing the practice
Namwaya Sawadogo started as a petty
trader. Through great innovative energy and with the support of development
agents who recognized his potential, he has managed to establish a highly
integrated system of agro-sylvo-pastoralism.
He is now a widely known innovator in Burkina Faso and has received many
visitors, including the Minister of Agriculture.
Namwaya Sawadogo was born in 1943 in
Touroum, a village located in Pissila Department in Sanmatenga province of
Burkina Faso. He has three wives and 12 children, but has to feed another five
relatives, which means that he supports a total of 20 persons. His farm covers
14 ha, almost three times more than the average farm size in this area. He keeps
four cattle, 15 sheep, nine goats, one horse, one donkey and poultry (chickens
and guinea fowl) near his home, and owns another 15 head of cattle, which are
cared for by Fulani pastoralists. He has therefore become a rich man compared
with most Burkinabé farmers, but when he started farming in this area, he had
only a few guinea fowl, one donkey and 1 ha of land–not enough to feed a
family in this semi-arid climate with only about 600 mm annual rainfall. Namwaya
has developed or taken up several new ideas related to land husbandry, but his
major innovation is that he has become a forest farmer. Over the years, he has
established a eucalyptus plantation covering 4 ha, in order to produce timber
for sale. The wide spacing of the trees allows him to grow groundnuts or other
annual leguminous crops in between.
For the last ten years, he has not been
obliged to buy grain for his household, not even in the years of drought. When
he could not produce sufficient grain himself, he would cut down some trees and
sell them on the market in order to raise cash to buy food. In a year of
‘normal’ rainfall, Namwaya harvests about 8000 kg of millet and sorghum,
which means that he normally produces a substantial surplus. Namwaya has a shop
on the market of Pissila, about 10 km from his home, where he sells medicinal
plants on the weekly market day. He also earns income from the sale of livestock,
cereals and seedlings.
In the 1970s, Namwaya was a small
itinerant trader in natural medicines who was constantly on the move. He often
did not see his family for weeks or even months at a stretch. However, after he
married and became the head of a household, he decided to settle down and
concentrate on agriculture, limiting his commercial activities to the village.
In 1982, a government-built dam
inundated almost all the fields of the Sawadogo family, which consisted of seven
households (‘hearths’), and there was land left for only two of them. Faced
with this difficult situation, Namwaya decided to move to the periphery of the
village where his uncles gave him about 1 ha of reasonably fertile soil. The chef
de terre (the man traditionally responsible for distributing land) granted
him the right also to use the uncultivated poor-quality land surrounding this
field if he wished to do so. He cultivated this poor land for several years, but
never managed to get a good harvest from it. Even with the 1 ha of good land, he
could not produce enough food to feed his household. With his back against the
wall, he decided to see what he could do to rehabilitate the poor land.
In 1988, Namwaya started to construct stone bunds along the contours on the poor land. He also planted a perennial grass (Andropogon gayanus) along the bunds. Contour bunds made of stones had become a well-known technique in Touroum following its promotion by the Association for the Development of the Kaya Region (ADRK), of which Namwaya was a member. This NGO specializes mainly in savings and credit, but between 1986 and 1998 it was also very active in the field of soil and water conservation. Through ADRK, Namwaya bought a donkey cart on credit, primarily to be able to transport the stones. The contour stone bunds had some positive impact on yields, but still he could feed his family for only nine or ten months of each year.
Content and approach
The real turning point came in 1990,
when government forestry agents proposed to train him in techniques of
establishing and maintaining a tree nursery. He had already been trying to raise
seedlings before this, but he felt that he had not mastered the techniques
adequately, so he gladly accepted their offer and attended a short training
course. At the same time, he tried to expand his cultivated area by applying
mulch to part of his barren, degraded land. In 1990, for the first time since
the dam had inundated the family fields in 1982, his fields produced enough
millet and sorghum to feed his family for the entire year.
In 1991, Namwaya established a tree
nursery next to the dam and produced 3000 plants in that same year. He planted 1
ha of relatively good land with a combination of locust-bean trees (Parkia
biglobosa) and Faidherbia (syn. Acacia) albida, and
intercropped the young seedlings with millet. On three sides of his field he
planted a live fence composed of several local woody species that he could use
for different purposes (fodder, medicines, etc.) in addition to protecting his
field. This was his start as an agroforester. In 1992, however, most of the
planted trees died. He decided to replace them with eucalyptus (Eucalyptus
camaldulensis) trees. Also in this year, Namwaya dug his first compost pit.
Both ADRK and the government extension service were promoting this technology.
He used his donkey cart to transport water to the compost pit from the dam
reservoir about 5 km from his farm.
In 1993, Namwaya doubled the size of his
eucalyptus plantation, growing the trees in lines about 8 metres apart so that
he could grow crops in between. That same year, he also planted eucalyptus on
2.5 ha of ancestral lands in Touroum that had been given to him by his
mother’s brothers. In 1994, after having been trained in animal husbandry
through ADRK, he started applying what he had learned to his own livestock. He
used his own resources to build a shed to store fodder. Also in that year, he
took part in an agricultural fair in the regional capital Kaya, where he was
distinguished as a model farmer and awarded a certificate of honour. He then
decided to buy a plough with credit from ADRK.
In 1995, Namwaya participated in a study
visit to the Yatenga region, organized by ADRK. On his return home, he decided
to dig planting pits (zaď) in his fields, like the pits he had seen in
Yatenga, even though this meant that he would no longer be able to use his newly
acquired plough on this land. He started a second compost pit. In 1995, a year
of exceptional demand for tree seedlings, his cash income from selling seedlings
from his nursery was CFA 600,000 (circa USD 950). This is a remarkable income
compared with the estimated average income in Burkina Faso at the time (USD
230). The positive impact of the zaď soon became evident. Two years
later, there was a serious drought and Namwaya was the only farmer in Touroum
who could harvest enough to meet the food needs of the family. He provided
cereals to those who asked for his help, feeling that this would morally oblige
them to experiment with new practices, as he had done.
The gradual increase in the size of his
household over the last decade has enabled Namwaya to invest in the expansion
and rehabilitation of land for agroforestry. With three wives and 12 children,
many of whom are of working age, he now has a considerable labour force.
Various agricultural technologies are
combined on Namwaya’s farm: contour stone bunds, zaď, barriers made of
perennial grasses (Andorpogon gayanus), mulching (with cut wild grasses
and lopped leaves of the shrub Piliostigma reticulatum), and composting.
He sows millet and sorghum in the same planting pits as a strategy to reduce
cropping risks. The quantity and distribution of rains in any one season
determines which of the cereals he will harvest.
Namwaya has mastered all aspects of
producing tree seedlings, also of local species. His key to success was his
close observation of how the seeds germinate. This helped him to develop his own
technical knowledge for treating seeds. Through observation, Namwaya also
identified which tree species can be multiplied through root suckers. They
include Faidherbia albida, tamarind (Tamarindus indica), kapok (Bombax
costatum), Diospyros mespiliformis, Balanites aegyptiaca and neem (Azadirachta
indica). In his tree plantation, Namwaya prefers to sow nitrogen-fixing
annual crops such as groundnuts between the lines of eucalyptus. If he does not
grow a crop, he uses this space for grazing. In this case, he just lightly
scratches the surface of the soil in order to improve the growing conditions for
In Namwaya’s view, the purpose of
livestock is to support crop production by providing organic matter for the soil.
In his words, ‘There can be no cropping without livestock.’ His livestock
holdings are diverse: bovines, equines and poultry. His innovations in animal
husbandry are of both a technological and an organizational nature. He keeps his
cattle, sheep and goats in a stable during the dry season so that he can collect
their manure systematically. This means that much extra work has to be invested,
especially by his wives and children, in feeding and watering the animals. To be
able to feed his livestock efficiently, he has built the large shed for storing
fodder immediately next to the stable. This reduces the waste of fodder to a
minimum. The two compost pits are immediately next to the stable so that the
manure can be diverted easily into the pits. The animals’ urine flows through
a drain that leads from the stable directly into one of the compost pits.
Namwaya cuts whatever fodder he can find that his animals are willing to eat. His theory is that most fodder species have complementary virtues. Some are good for nutrition, whereas others are good for animal health. During the dry season he feeds his livestock large quantities of ground pods of Piliostigma reticulatum. He has produced his own concoctions to treat certain animal diseases. He also produces salt-licks himself, using an extract of Hibiscus spp., bark of savanna mahogany (Khaya senegalensis), clay from a salty marsh, and salt (NaCl) and natron, both of which are Sahel products sold on local markets.
The role of indigenous knowledge
Namwaya has progressively integrated a number of indigenous practices into his farm and has gradually developed an agro-sylvo-pastoral system. This development was closely linked to the evolution of his own knowledge and to the level of equipment, labour and financial resources at his disposal. Whenever Namwaya started up a new activity, he always looked carefully at how it could be done efficiently in order to minimize costs and labour energy.
The practices are based in the community and they are part of the socio-cultural values and meanings of the people living in the community.
Namwaya is now a widely known innovator
in Burkina Faso and has received many visitors. He has been honoured several
times, most recently with a medal at an agricultural fair in Bagré in 2000. He
has also been awarded cash prizes at fairs, for example in Ouagadougou in 1994,
and in Bogandé in 1998.
The knowledge is known to all members of the community and transmitted within the community and through the Institut National d’Etudes et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA) in Burkina Faso.
His neighbours have started using some of his practices, for example a growing number of farmers have started pruning Piliostigma reticulatum. Namwaya also receives many visitors (farmers, agricultural technicians, researchers) and in this way his knowledge and experience is spreading.
Achievements and results
Namwaya’s innovations are an example
for other farmers who have poor land and only one source of income. In that
sense, this case could be considered as a Best Practice.
Namwaya’s innovations are sustainable
(such as the plant seedlings, better natural resource management),
cost-effective (Namwaya now produces enough cereals to feed his family), and
locally manageable (he was able to work on his innovations locally, with the
help of his family).
Namway’s own words
When assessing the impact of the
innovations on his life, Namwaya speaks in terms of his gain in respectability,
responsibility and popularity, but also his increased financial capacity and his
ability to support those in need. He is proud of what he has achieved and enjoys
the higher social status that his achievements bring. His market stall in
Pissila, for natural pharmaceutical products, attracts many clients, even from
other parts of Sanmatenga province. Namwaya views his trees as a form of life
insurance and looks to the future with much confidence. ‘When I am old, I can
live from the income and the products of my plantations.’
The recognition and prizes Namwaya has received have inspired him to continue innovating and have allowed him to invest in both livestock and his ethnopharmaceutical business.
Source of inspiration
It would be possible to transfer the practices, but there would certainly be conditions and prerequisites to consider if they were to be transmitted to other countries and regions in Africa.
Namwaya’s practices are emulated in
If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.
International Cooperation Centre
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 20 4449078
Fax: +31 20 4449095
partner(s) involved in the practice
P.O. Box 64
3830 AB Leusden
Tel.: +31 33 4943086
Fax: +31 33 4940791
who have described this Best Practice
Institut National d’Etudes et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA)
Formerly working for INERA and now
Minister of Environment and Water
Namentenga Integrated Regional Development Project
This case is an adapted version of an article published in: ‘Farmer
Innovation in Africa. A source of Inspiration for Agricultural Development’.
Chris Reij & Ann Waters-Bayer (eds.), 2001. Publisher: EARTHSCAN,
Earthscan Publications Ltd, London (UK) / Sterling, VA. www.earthscan.co.uk
 A combination of cultivation, tree farming and livestock keeping.
To MOST Clearing House Best Practices on Poverty and Social Exclusion
To MOST/CIRAN Database of Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge
To MOST Clearing House Homepage