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Country profile - Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Formerly known as Upper Volta, Burkina Faso is a relatively flat land-locked savannah country which, despite significant mineral deposits, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Bordered by Mali to the North, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana to the south, and Benin and Niger to the east, Burkina Faso is renowned for its arid land and vulnerability to drought. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy but lack of work contributes to high levels of migration with more than three million Burkinabe currently living and working in Côte d'Ivoire. Remittances sent home provide valuable household income for many families.

Burkina's climate is classed as tropical with two distinct seasons - one wet and one dry - but rainfall is often poor, averaging between 600 and 900mm, and generally much less than this in the arid north. Temperatures often exceed 40°C, and in 2005 a combination of drought and locust invasion resulted in the loss of up to 90 per cent of the country's crops, with large numbers of livestock sold to buy grain at inflated prices.

Since it achieved independence from France in 1960, when the country changed its name to Burkina Faso, this sub-Saharan nation has suffered a number of coups and political unrest. However, in political terms the country has been relatively stable since 1987, and the last presidential elections held in November 2005 were reported as being both free and fair by international observers.

Under developed economy

Burkinabe farmer in young cotton field (Helvetas)
Burkinabe farmer in young cotton field

In the last fifteen years, with the aid of the World Bank, the IMF and other donors, Burkina Faso has introduced a number of social and economic reforms which have resulted in development of the private sector as well as growth in the economy. Yet the economy lacks diversity and is susceptible to both climate and trade changes. Even though economic growth has increased in the last ten years, Burkina Faso is rated by the UN as the world's third poorest country. As a result, the economy is largely dependent on international aid. In 1997, the country became eligible for debt relief and in 2006, after qualifying for the multilateral debt reduction initiative, outstanding debts to the World Bank, IMF and African Development Banks were cancelled.

Burkina Faso has limited natural resources and although there are deposits of gold, copper, iron and manganese, the country's largest gold mine was closed in 1999. Agriculture is thus the major industry, accounting for just over a third of GDP and involving an estimated 90 percent of the country's 13.8m populace. Despite this, less than 18 per cent of the land is under cultivation, in part due to the poor soil, but also as a consequence of recent droughts and desertification.

Cotton traders

Transporting harvested cotton (Helvetas)
Transporting harvested cotton

Sorghum, millet, corn and rice are grown as subsistence crops with cash crops including groundnuts, cotton seed, cotton fibre and sesame. Livestock, once a major export has declined and is now mostly kept by nomads. Sugarcane has been introduced on a large scale and has also become a significant cash crop, while cassava, sweet potatoes and tobacco also generate noteworthy income. However, it is cotton - known locally as white gold - that is most important, accounting for over a third of the country's exports. In 2006, cotton production amounted to 713,000 tonnes, compared to 100,000 tonnes ten years ago. About three million people, mainly subsistence farmers, depend on cotton production for their income whilst a further three million are involved in the industry.

Such is the value of cotton to the economy that the government has joined with other cotton producing countries to lobby for improved access to western markets. However, despite being widely recognised as the best in the world - as it is hand-picked and free of impurities - Burkina Faso's cotton exports are under threat from large-scale producers, particularly those that are supported by subsidies, such in the US. In an effort to boost Burkina Faso's cotton trade, the French Development Agency has granted The National Union of Burkinabe Cotton Producers US$13.4 million with which to train farmers, expand production and help build managerial capacity. In addition, the purpose of the grant is to diversify the agricultural economy, by improving warehousing and transport infrastructure, and increasing cereal production.

Despite these recent developments, Burkina Faso's economy remains fragile and is susceptible to external influences. Conflict in Côte d'Ivoire has raised local tension and it has been alleged that Burkina Faso has, in the past, been involved in the smuggling of conflict diamonds. However, the country is making a determined effort to improve its economy by developing its mineral resources, improving its infrastructure, and making its livestock and agricultural sectors more competitive.

Statistical information
  • Area:
    274,200 sq km
  • Population:
    13,902,972 (July 2006 est.)
  • Population growth rate:
    3% (2006 est.)
  • Life expectancy:
    48.85 years
  • Ethnic groups:
    Mossi over 40%, Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, Fulani
  • Languages:
    French (official), native African languages belonging to Sudanic family spoken by 90% of the population
  • Inflation:
    6.4% (2005 est.)
  • GDP:
    Purchasing power parity: $16.66 billion (2005 est.)
    Per capita: $1,200 (2005 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector:
    Agriculture: 32.2% industry: 19.6% services: 48.2% (2004 est.)
  • Land use:
    Arable land: 17.66% permanent crops: 0.22% other: 82.12%
  • Major industries:
    Cotton lint, beverages, agricultural processing, soap, cigarettes, textiles, gold
  • Agricultural products:
    Cotton, peanuts, shea nuts, sesame, sorghum, millet, corn, rice, livestock
  • Natural resources:
    Manganese, limestone, marble, small deposits of gold, phosphates, pumice, salt
  • Export commodities:
    Cotton, livestock, gold
  • Export partners:
    China 38.3%, Singapore 12.6%, Thailand 5.7%, Ghana 5.2%, Taiwan 4.4% (2005)

Date published: January 2007


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