Climate & Agriculture
As soon as the rainy season arrives, fields of maize, millet and sorghum start to shoot upwards and the important agricultural season begins.
Land of maize, mangoes and music
Mangoes are the most popular fruit in the country. Mango trees can be seen everywhere, often with maize growing underneath. With a good harvest, farmers have mountains of mangoes – sometimes too many to sell.
Many people in Burkina Faso are subsistence growers, selling surplus produce for cash. During June to September, villages can be deserted because all the able-bodied are working in the fields.
Apart from cereals, rice and fonio (a wild grass seed), villagers grow crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts/peanuts and beans. Livestock-raising is also an important activity; as well as goats, sheep and cattle, farmers rear pigs, camels, chickens, ducks and guinea fowl.
Burkina’s main agricultural export is cotton. But sesame seeds, beans and mangoes are also key earners.
With so many mango trees, much of the fruit goes to waste. Facilities to preserve the fruit are being set up with the help of the food industry. For example, one fair-trade company has invested in solar-powered technology to dry the mango using the sun's rays. This process avoids the need for additional sugar or preservatives.
A varying climate north to south
Temperatures are generally hot in Burkina Faso, though the country doesn’t suffer the level of humidity experienced by its coastal neighbours. The capital, Ouagadougou, averages 24°C in January, 34°C in May and 28°C in July.
There are three broad climate zones across the country:
i) across the northern quarter of the country, the arid Sahel zone to the south of the Sahara sees little rain (less than 250mm each year)
ii) half of Burkina Faso is covered by semi-arid savannah land, which receives 600-1000mm of rain annually
iii) the southwestern bulge of the country is much wetter, with over 1000mm of rain; here the rainy season spans six months of the year (May to October).
The Sahel region is at risk of becoming desert, as once fertile areas now experience dry seasons lasting eight or nine months. The desert is spreading into the grasslands by 5-10cm each year and with global warming, this desertification could accelerate. Trees have to be protected from being used for firewood, because they help to keep the soil from blowing away.
Which wind is blowing?
Arriving as the mangos ripen, showers brought by the first cool fronts are known as the pluie des mangues or ‘mango rains’.
The hot dry Harmattan wind blows from the end of February, bringing dust from the Sahara. At this time, the heat in Burkina can be oppressive.
Cooler fronts of humid air start to arrive from March onwards, signalling the approaching monsoon season in May. These bring some relief from the heat and give light rain showers.