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What kind of intensification? Agricultural practice, soil fertility and socioeconomic differentiation in rural Burkina Faso

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In rural Burkina Faso, intensification has been an uneven process that has resulted in social costs, particularly in the form of uneven distribution of assets and disparate environmental trade-offs. This study examines the effects of wealth status on agricultural practice and soil fertility, arguing that differences in the practices of wealthier and poorer farmers lead to differential social and environmental outcomes. Two concerns are highlighted. First is the role of poverty in environmental degradation. Much of the debate about the role of wealth and poverty in environmental outcomes in developing countries has pinpointed poverty as the main causal explanation. Using studies of agricultural practices and soil fertility from several villages in southwestern Burkina Faso, this paper will counter this dominant view by showing that wealthier farmers farm much larger areas, have fewer trees in their fields, and use higher levels of animal traction which, in turn, has led to lower levels of soil fertility. A second concern is that while poorer farmers may have agricultural practices that minimize environmental degradation, their exclusion from key institutions that provide access to resources has serious livelihood consequences and potentials for increasing socioeconomic differentiation. The agricultural practices of wealthier farmers, while not optimal environmentally, result in higher levels of household wealth. A paradox emerges that while poorer farmers are conserving environmental resources, they are doing so at the expense of economic development and well-being.
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Keywords: Burkina Faso; West Africa; agricultural intensification; poverty; soil degradation; soil fertility

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Environmental Studies Institute, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053, USA

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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