In 2005 in Balkouy an agricultural boarding school was inaugurated, attracting a great deal of attention from the local press and local government departments as the first and so far only organic farm in Burkina Faso.
Rural exodus continues as before. Young men in particular from the outlying villages flock to the capital in the hope of making a living. Unfortunately there is not enough work for so many people and the young often end up permanently on the streets. There life is hard, not only because of drugs, but knife fights and disease often lead to an untimely death.
The local villages are also greatly affected by the loss of young people, because every hand is needed at harvest time. In the long term the agricultural yield of the entire country, which is already poor enough, sinks even further. The objective of the farming project is to remedy this situation and teach new farming methods. On the farm about 20 km from the capital, new tropical cultivation methods are taught, cooking is done with biogas and in the evening studying takes place in light powered by solar energy – Tondtenga is unique and is host to hundreds of visitors every year. The first groups of young people have now been back and integrated in their home villages for three years. They are still supported by their former teachers and surprisingly enough their message of organic farming is well received. This was our ultimate goal.
Over a period of three years the students learn methods of improving agricultural yield and animal husbandry. For another two years the working groups are supported in their villages, applying the skills and methods they learned. The aim is to improve agricultural output in the long term and deter young people from leaving for the city.
The working groups are recruited from communities outside the city, after consultation with parents and the village elders. At present there are eight in-house groups from four communities, each made up of ten young people aged between 14 and 20. Other young people are supported externally in the villages.
The farm covers seven hectares with orchards and vegetable gardens, compost pits and housing for the animals they take care of, including pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, turkeys, chickens, cattle and horses.
There are eight dormitories for the kids and a multi-purpose recreation hut. Another building complex houses the school and the administration offices. There is also a building for the tutors, the vet, the caretaker family and the kitchen.
The water required on the farm is pumped by a diesel generator from a well 65 metres deep into a water tower, a volume of water that cannot yet be pumped by solar energy. The skilful use of various irrigation systems plays an important role in the young peoples’ training.
Daily schooling focuses on a basic knowledge of ecology, the environment, animal husbandry, arable farming and vegetable farming.
Each working group must cultivate its own piece of land. This encourages a sense of competition among the various groups and it leads to significantly better results than the former methods where everyone worked together on large fields.
Each kid must also look after his own plant bed, creating a sense of responsibility. Since this highly successful measure was introduced, some of the boys even get out of bed long before the early sunrise to tend their plants.
The entire group is responsible for planting the experimental fields during the rainy season. They grow maize, millet and peanuts. Fruit plantations are planted and the boys learn about fermentation in compost pits, an art in itself in Burkina Faso because of the climatic conditions, and important for organic farming methods.
The Tondtenga project is managed by Samuel Ilboudou. He is a psychologist and veterinary doctor and is supported by a team of tutors, vets, gardeners, teachers and of course cooks to look after the wellbeing of the young people.
In the local Mossi language “Tondtenga” means “our land”. The young farmers learn to cultivate this land on the farm, preventing them from ending up as street kids and ensuring that they can return to their villages with pride as valuable members of their community, on completion of their training.
Tondtenga is financed by the Dr Elvire Engel Foundation in Luxemburg.