Economy & Industry

‘White gold’

Shea butter

Shea butter

In this video...local women show how the shea butter which comes from the nuts of karité trees is made into soap.

Burkina Faso is Africa’s largest producer of cotton. Local farmers call it their ‘white gold’. Cotton is the mainstay of the country’s economy, earning over 200 million dollars in revenue each year.

Since cotton accounts for a third of the country’s gross domestic product, Burkina’s economy suffers when world prices dip. Burkina’s small producers also get paid a fraction of the final market price – sometimes receiving just 8%. And growers have to compete with western farmers who receive generous subsidies.

Subsidies given to cotton producers in the USA amount to more than the entire earnings of Burkina Faso. A study by Oxfam estimates the removal of these payments could raise cotton prices by 10% for West Africa’s farmers.

With nearly 50 different grades of cotton, Burkina’s product is among the best. Its cotton is high-quality, with long, strong fibres and no impurities.

The real stuff

Panning for gold

Locals still use basic gold mining techniques, with men going down small shafts and women pounding the rocks. The precious metal is panned from the crushed rock powder using water and a huge bowl.

Real gold is another important source of revenue for Burkina Faso. The main mining locations are around Yako and Dora in the north and Banfora in the south.

Deposits of other minerals, mainly manganese, bauxite, lead, phosphates, zinc and nickel have also been found. But exploitation of these natural resources has so far been limited by the country’s poor infrastructure and the difficulty of reaching isolated areas.

Still one of the poorest countries

Lady measuring out grains on traditional market stall in Burkina FasoThe economy has been growing steadily over the last decade (gross national income per head has doubled). Nevertheless, Burkina Faso remains one of the poorest countries in the world and relies on international aid and money sent home by migrants.

Industry mainly revolves around the processing of food and beverages, with some manufacture of other goods such as textiles, shoes and bicycle parts. The growth of industry is hampered by the country’s landlocked position and its small domestic market.

With much of the economy still dependent on agriculture, the government is trying to encourage the nation’s farmers to grow a wider variety of crops and plants.

For example, in the Sahel region, investment has gone into the growing of acacia trees which produce gum arabic. See the Economy & Industry section of North Sudan to find out what gum arabic is used for.