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How to reduce vulnerability in rural Burkina Faso: keeping the trees and planting more or diversifying the livelihoods?

How to understand vulnerability and how to reduce it? If you ask this question to several people on the street they are likely to give you different answers. Same is probably true for those who work with policy and make decision on how to reduce vulnerability of people in rural communities in Africa or elsewhere. Different understanding results in different ways of doing things. At the policy level it means that the entire chain of actions, from national to community level, will be implemented in a way policy makers interpreted the terms in the first place.

Our new Policy Brief prepared together with Jenny Friman, one of the Focali members, takes a look at vulnerability from two different perspectives using the example of parklands in Bonogo, Burkina Faso.

The village of Bonogo lies 35 kilometres south of the capital, Ouagadougou, and has a high population density with most inhabitants having low incomes. The villagers rely on a combination of subsistence-based, rain-fed agriculture complemented by small-scale businesses. The most commonly grown trees are mango, shea, néré and tamarind. However, numerous reports indicate that Burkina Faso’s parklands are increasingly degrading due to complex socio-ecological forces such as increasing market demand for agricultural, livestock and forestry products, inadequate governance, over-harvesting, and recurring droughts.

Burkina Faso is a relatively dry tropical savanna with two distinctive seasons – the rainy season and the dry season, which means that  agricultural production can easily be affected by natural events like floods and droughts exacerbated by climate change. In turn, this means the inhabitants are vulnerable to food insecurity.

What is more important to reduce vulnerability in this case: keeping the fruit and timber tress and planting more or diversifying the livelihoods of the Bonogo inhabitants? These would be the two main ways of dealing with reduction of vulnerability in Bonogo. Derived from the two concepts which are currently widely used in the analysis of vulnerability, the Resilience and the Human Security, these two viewpoints have different ways of looking at the adaptation options and may have very different outcomes for policy on the ground.

Applying the Resilience and the Human Security perspectives to the case of Bonogo, this brief outlines major differences between the two, lists key policy options for both and offers a way of dealing with vulnerability that would integrate the approaches.

The two framings arrive at one important common conclusion: the presently high dependence on natural resources in general, and trees in particular, needs to be decreased through livelihood diversification. The explanations of why diversification is needed differ between the two framings, however, these differences do not need to be overcome per se. Rather, there is a need to pay more attention to how our assumptions and interpretations of changes in nature and society matter for understanding vulnerability and adaptation and management of natural resources.

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