Burkina Faso Championing the Need to Invest in Sustainable Development


[Stories of Change from Africa] Drumming, music and dance take over the streets of Ouagadougo, the capital of Burkina Faso, in the heart of West Africa, but droughts, degrading soils and political instability has contributed to place Burkina Faso as one of the worlds’ poorest countries.  Large parts of the population depend on natural resources for their livelihood and it is estimated that natural resources contribute to 30.9 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), fuelling key for strategic sectors such as mining and agriculture.

Despite this, sustainable management of natural resources is still often overlooked in Burkina Faso. Low agricultural productivity, degraded soils, deforestation and pollution from the inappropriate use of chemicals in the mining and cotton sector pose serious threats to livelihoods, health, and prompt seasonal migration of people to neighboring countries in search of alternative livelihood opportunities.  

The UNDP-UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative supports the Government of Burkina Faso to bring solutions to these challenges by promoting pro-poor sustainable development. By mainstreaming poverty-environment objectives into policy and budget frameworks at the national, sector and sub-national level, it is possible to harmonize the needs of the environment with efforts to lift people out of poverty.

Unsustainable use of natural resources is expensive

In 2011, with the support of PEI, the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) commissioned an economic assessment of the contribution of the environment and natural resources to Burkina Faso’s national economy and the costs of environmental degradation. The study found that environmental degradation costs the government 18-22% of annual GDP, an equivalent of US$1.7 billion. Conclusions from the study indicate that sustainable management of natural resources is fundamental to the economy and efforts to reduce poverty.

The Government of Burkina Faso recognized both the magnitude and the urgency of the problem, and looked to learn from other African nations to help identify the way forward. Drawing on experiences from Tunisia and Mauritius, the MEF and MEDD jointly took the lead in making the mainstreaming of poverty-environment objectives into policies and plans an urgent priority.  Consequently, Burkina Faso’s 2011-2015 Development Plan (SCADD), and five sector policies (Agriculture, Mining, Health, Transport and Rural Development) have all now incorporated environmental sustainability as a cross-cutting issue and, at the local level, the Po region has developed an Agenda 21 framework for sustainable development, with the support of PEI. 

Implementation - Investing in sustainable development

‘Sustainable development is a source for job creation, poverty reduction and economic growth’ says Mr. Taladidia Thiobiano, CEO of the Centre d’Etudes, de Documentation et de Recherche économiques et sociales (CEDRES), but changing policies and plans is not enough to implement innovative approaches for pro-poor sustainable development, it also requires budgetary allocations. To that end, the MEF created a budget line to support environment and natural resource management and developed the Investment Programme for Environment and Sustainable Development (2012-2016), including a chapter on Green Economy to promote green investments. By identifying the current investment needs for a more sustainable development path, a US$ 2 million increase in public resource allocations for sustainable development has been sanctioned and the budget for the MEDD has increased by four billion CFA Francs equivalent to US$ 834,000. The Public Investment Plan has set an annual investment target of 4 % (about US$128 million) of the national budget for pro-poor environmentally sustainable investments, as opposed to the current 0.5–0.8 %. 

Reforestation and the creation of new economic opportunities for women 

The Yanta Union in Bobo Dioulasso promotes the social and economic advancement of women, and has 940 members, the majority of whom are refugees or widows. In the past, the women used to earn their livelihoods from cutting and selling wood for fuel, thus contributing to deforestation and desertification.  After forming the Union with the support of several organizations including PEI, the women became aware of the negative effects of cutting the forest and gained new skills to generate incomes from the processing of non-timber products like cashew nuts. This is an inspiring example of how poverty and economic opportunities are intrinsically linked to natural resources and how unsustainable patterns can be reversed.
The Member of Parliament and active Poverty-Environment Champion, the Honourable Ms. Assita Ouattara, further indicates that "sustainable development must take gender into account. If women are not involved we cannot have a sustainable and equitable development. Women have roles to play in sustainable development…[and their] traditional knowledge should be valued." 

Increasing health costs due to unsustainable chemical use in the cotton and mining sector

When the water of the Buriba river, an important local water source for both domestic and agriculture use, turned red and animal mortality rapidly increased, local people suspected that chemical use in gold panning was starting to pose a danger to the environment, the economy and people’s health, says Poverty Environment Champion, Mr. Mathias Manti Hien, the former president of the Regional Council of the Southwest Region. In response, PEI, in collaboration with the Swedish Chemical Agency and the UNDP-UN Environment Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), supported the MEDD to conduct an assessment of the costs of inaction related to the unsustainable use of chemicals in the cotton and mining sectors, and reviewed regulations governing the use of chemicals in these sectors. 

The studies showed that the total cost of unsustainable chemical use and management is US$ 24.2 million/year in the artisanal mining sector and US$ 9.3 million/year in the cotton sector. Large parts of the costs are related to deteriorating human health resulting from contaminated drinking water and from pro longed exposure to chemicals. The reports also identified shortcomings in the national environmental legal framework with regard to chemicals. Improved chemicals management in Burkina Faso could recover an economic loss of 0.35 % of the annual GDP and reduce health problems for 850,000 people. 

As a result, the Government of Burkina Faso has now improved the environmental framework law and developed a manual outlining legal enforcement measures to safeguard livelihoods and health for rural and urban populations across the country. Furthermore, steps are being taken to improve the current practices of chemical use in the artisanal mining sector to become more sustainable.   At the local level, sustainable chemical management has been integrated into local development plans and the findings from the studies have supported local leaders in their discussions with companies on the control of chemicals.


Working across divisions and with the involvement of the private and public sectors, together with civil society, the government is revising polices, plans, legislations and budgets to better promote a pro-poor inclusive green economy. Improved environmental and natural resource management and investments are already having a positive effect for women and for the thousands of people facing health issues due to over exposure to chemicals. And for the large group of seasonal migrants who leave the country in search of work each year, this is an investment most worthwhile, promising hope for the future.