Seedlings to be used by nursery gardeners in Oubritenga, Burkina Faso, August 18, 2016. Picture by Igor Ouedraogo.
As night falls, the scorching temperature eases and nature seems to awake. Frogs croak lustfully to greet the sun, a globe of orange fire, and manage almost to drown out the cries of the children who enjoy the last rays of light playing football before being called home. The buzz of a scooter pierces the silence and Hamado Ilboudo perks up an ear. The puttering get steadily closer and he smiles. Bibata is on her way.
Bibata is his eldest daughter. She is studying at the National Primary Teacher training college and is set to become a school mistress. Last year, with the profits he had made from his flourishing nursery activities, her father was able to pay the enrollment fee and buy her a moped so she could get to college and to the library without difficulty.
Mr Ilboudo is a smallholder in the district of Loumbila. Two years ago, on a visit to Ziniare, the main provincial town, he heard of a programme to train nurserymen.
Increasingly high temperatures in the region are drying out the soil. The rainy season is often late and the ensuing heavy rainfall weakens the soil further and reduces its fertility.
To better combat these growing woes and their disastrous consequences for local agriculture, the BRACED programme, led by Welthungerhilfe and Self Help Africa, aims to improve soils' fertility and help them regenerate.
Nurserymen have been trained to grow endogenous plants like neem, acacia and jujube tree. These local species, adapted to the climate of the Sahel, consume little water and some can be edible. They help fix the nutrients in the soil and are ideal for the reforestation of villages and to protect food gardens.
The Wend Yam Federation, a BRACED local partner which has been in Oubritenga province for nearly 35 years, got in touch with environment department technical services team in order to set the scheme up, identifying four candidates for training. Iboudo, who was very enthusiastic, was part of the original group.
He previous provided for his family by selling some of his cereal production and a chicken from time to time. Despite all his best efforts, with his small plot of land and limited means he was unable to save or invest in his business.
After his training and having benefited from a donation of the right equipment -- a wheelbarrow, pruning scissors etc. -- he quickly got on with the job.
"I thought I had better see what my priority was and where I should invest first," he said. "They told me on the course that terracotta pots were better than plastic bags for plants: they retain humidity better. My nephew and my wife had a bit of spare time so I taught them how to make pots. They also help me with the watering."
With his first profits, he invested in building a small reservoir to store water to use for watering the nursery.
"I apply the trainers’ advice. You need to be patient," he explains. The quality of his plants, acknowledged by the technical services -- who do not hesitate to recommend him to clients from all over the province-- testify to his dedication and his effort.
Townships, schools and producer groups now use his services. His income has increased substantially and local youth have approached him to ask if he would teach him his work.
Bibata climbs off her moped, grabs her bag full of books and sits down next to her father. "When I am a teacher," she says, "I will be able to look after myself financially and even pay for my younger sister’s studies."