Course:RES510/2023/Zai and Gender in Burkina Faso

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Executive Summary

As part of the Eat-Lancet 2.0 project, this report is a case study in agroecological transformation in Burkina Faso. Specifically this report applies the “Four Dimensions of Change” framework. to analyse gender barriers that can prevent the adoption of the zai farming method by women. Through an analysis of existing literature, this report finds evidence of gender barriers in each of the four dimensions: production practices, knowledge generation and transmission, social and economic relations and institutional frameworks. In the discussion, the connection of zai to food insecurity, the replicability and limitations of this case study and policy opportunities are explored.

Eat-Lancet Project:

According to the Eat-Lancet Commission, the number of food-insecure individuals globally increased from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million in 2023.[1] This is due to dominant industrial food practices that drive biodiversity loss, water scarcity and greenhouse gas emissions, which negatively impact agricultural and food production systems, further increasing food insecurity. EAT is a science-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the global food system and has launched the EAT-Lancet Commission to focus on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.[1] In 2019, the commission published the first set of targets for healthy diets and recommended six environmental boundaries for food production that emphasise the disproportionately large impact that food has on planetary boundaries. The commission’s next steps are to include new elements, such as focusing more on diversity and including more regional and local diets. In addition, the commission has set goals to define and quantify a healthy reference diet, assess if global consumption habits meet nutritional needs as well as to make healthy foods accessible to all.

Problem Statement:

In response to the degraded agricultural landscape in Burkina Faso, this report builds on the existing literature demonstrating the effectiveness of the zai method to transform agriculture and improve food security by specifically analysing gender considerations of adoption.

Social-Ecological Systems Framework:

Figure 1: The Four Dimensions of Change: An Analytical Framework (IPES-Food, 2018)

To complement the gender lens, a social-ecological systems framework will also be applied to the analysis of this case study. The framework selected is the “Four Dimensions of Change” shown in Figure 1 from the IPES Food report “Breaking Away from the Industrial Food and Farming Systems” (2018).[2] This framework was used successfully in the IPES report to better understand case studies of agroecological transitions and we feel applying it to our case study will ensure a thorough analysis of the changes required to further transition to zai farming in Burkina Faso.


Political History:

Land degradation and food insecurity are in large part due to widespread conflict in the country. Political, social, and economic instability in Burkina Faso spiked in 2016 with the rising presence of armed extremist groups in the capital, Ouagadougou.[3] In 2018, 1.7 million internally displaced persons were recorded in Burkina Faso as a result of this extremist presence.[4] In 2022, out of frustration regarding the sitting government’s lack of response to extremist groups, a coup was successfully implemented, instating a group of military leaders to power. Following the coup, extremist groups were still able to seize 40% of Burkina Faso’s land primarily, in the Centre-Nord region in the North.[5] The seizure of land in the north has dramatically decreased access to pasture and farmlands. This land seizure, in conjunction with an increased population of internally displaced people, has exacerbated vulnerability to food insecurity.

Gender in Burkina Faso:

Our project analyses the zai method using a gendered lens and considers the role of women in Burkina Faso for future sustainable agriculture methods and adoption trends. Women in Burkina Faso are a vulnerable population, especially in the workforce. As of 2022, 58.3% of women in Burkina Faso are participating in the labour force whereas 73.1% of males do.[6] Within that 58.3%, 89.9% of women are categorised as having “vulnerable employment”, where there is a lack of social and labour protections and they are more likely to fall into a cycle of poverty.[6] There have been an increasing number of programs aimed at supporting the resilience of women in Burkina Faso through agriculture in light of gendered dynamics in the country and the role of conflict. Greenhouses and conditional cash transfers are among these programs, however, our project seeks to understand how zai might be uniquely situated to address gendered dynamics in agriculture.[4]

Agriculture, Food Security & Degraded Landscapes:

Burkina Faso’s economy is dominated by agriculture. According to [7], farming and livestock activities occupy about 86 percent of Burkina Faso’s workforce. This report states that the majority of farming is low-yield, rainfed, subsistence farming. The most common crops produced for consumption are cereal (sorghum, millet, maize, fonio and rice), commercial crops like cotton for export and legumes. There is also a smaller proportion of fully or partially irrigated high value crops like tomatoes and onions.[8][7]

Like most Sub-Saharan African countries, Burkina Faso’s agricultural sector is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A long-term study of climate in Burkina Faso documented increases in average temperature, extreme high-temperature occurrences and rainfall variability.[9]Compared to other countries with a higher proportion of irrigated agriculture, Burkina Faso’s rain-fed agriculture will suffer higher yield losses from these climate events.[10]

Evidence already supports a relationship between these climate impacts on agriculture and food insecurity. Climate changes have increased agricultural pests, decreased food yields, and increased resource conflicts. [11][12] Due to these climate impacts, in addition to the political conflicts and lingering impacts from COVID-19, it is estimated that as of September 2023, 3.3 million people in Burkina Faso are suffering from hunger.[13]

Zai Method:

Figure 2: Zai Pits (Greener, 2023)

The zai method is an indigenous agricultural method and a promising solution to the climate and conflict barriers to food insecurity by reducing soil erosion, enhancing soil fertility, and raising agricultural yields.[14] The zai method consists of small basins for planting annual or perennial crops called "zai pits," as seen in Figure 2. Usually 20–30 cm in diameter and 10–20 centimetres deep, each zai pit is broad and shallow. These holes are usually placed 70 to 80 cm apart, forming a grid-like pattern throughout the fields.[15] It is important to note that different names of the zai method across Africa are planting pits, agun pits (Sudan), kofyarpits (Nigeria), yamka (Kyrgyzstan), Chololo pits (Tanzania), and tassa (Niger).[15]

Burkina Faso during the 1970s, started to face environmental and population crises, recurrent droughts were happening, soils were degrading, crops were failing and extensification was increasing. Due to the frequent droughts, the cultivation of mid and upper-slopes became quite difficult due to the inability of the soil to retain moisture forcing farmers into lower slopes and valley bottoms.[16] To keep up with the population boom during that time period, there was a severe reduction of fallow by farmers which reduced soil fertility and increased erosion resulting in less crop yields and food for most families, forcing many farmers to migrate to cities or regions with healthier lands.[16] However, for the farmers that decided to stay and deal with their lands, started to look for more sustainable and traditional ways they could restore the soils, which is how zai remerged.

Zai Effectiveness:

Water Retention

The zai method is exceptionally useful in areas where water is scarce since it is effective at catching and preserving rainfall. The ability to capture every drop of precipitation is critical in arid and semi-arid regions where rainfall is both rare and unpredictable.[14] By serving as "water banks," these trenches ensure that even the smallest amount of rainfall is collected and stored for crop use.[17] During protracted dry spells, the zai method significantly increases crop survival by offering a reliable source of moisture.

Improved Soil Fertility

The zai method actively improves soil fertility by retaining significant amounts of water and moisture, which are essential for productive agriculture.[14] The pits are not only places to store water but are also containers for compost, crop wastes, and organic debris. These organic components enrich the soil with organic carbon and essential nutrients.[18] As they break down, they release vital substances like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that enrich the soil and provide the building blocks for healthy plant growth. Stronger root systems, improved nutrient absorption, and more resistance to environmental challenges are all direct results of this improvement in soil fertility.

Erosion Reduction

According to Reij et al. (2009), soil erosion is a danger to farms because it results in the depletion of fertile topsoil and lower agricultural production.[14] The zai method  substantially lowers the velocity of surface water flow by collecting rainfall inside the pits. The integrity of the topsoil must be preserved for this water flow to slow down. By doing this, dirt particles are kept from washing downstream. Additionally, organic matter is added to the pits to improve the soil's structure and increase its resistance to erosion.[19] By protecting the land from the damaging impacts of erosion, the zai method serves as a natural guardian, assisting in the long-term preservation of agricultural land.

Enhanced Crop Yields

Crop yields significantly increase due to the zai method's enhanced soil fertility and water retention effects.[17] These higher yields are a huge help, especially for smallholder farmers who have trouble maintaining their financial stability and access to food.[14][17] The nutrient-rich environment in the pits and the steady moisture supply provide the ideal circumstances for crop growth. During dry spells, plants gain from both a prolonged water supply and a nutrient-rich root substrate. They consequently yield bigger, healthier, and more plentiful harvests, thus addressing the urgent need for higher agricultural output in areas with limited resources.


One of the main reasons for the success of the Zai Method is its versatility. It is a flexible and appealing solution for areas with various environmental issues since it can be adjusted to fit different crops and local conditions.[14] To accommodate various crop kinds and development patterns, farmers can modify the pits' size and spacing.[20] This flexibility guarantees that the approach is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a versatile instrument that can be adjusted to match the unique requirements of many local settings and agricultural systems.

Justification for Zai Selection:

The types of soil and water conservation measures used in the Sahelian region, including Burkina Faso, enhance the ability to deal with and increase resilience against declining amounts and periods of rainfall and degraded landscapes. Many farmers who implement such measures, including female farmers, do so to protect their lands since they feel a sense of responsibility towards their lands and the environment they are in. A few measures include stone bunds, half moons and zai.[21] According to Nyamekye et al. (2018), these agroecological techniques have led to a significant improvement in water retention and an increase in both crop yield and vegetative cover.[22] Stone bunds, although one of the most effective measures used by farmers in Burkina Faso, can only be used in areas with gently sloping land and requires intensive manual labour to create several contour-aligned stone walls with varied heights, limiting the regions they can be used in and if used on non-sloping lands, will not be as efficient.[23][24] In addition, this technique limits some female farmers as it requires heavy lifting of rocks and stones, which can be tiring and needs at least another participant, and many women work the lands by themselves as many men refuse to work for women since it is assumed to be “unmasculine.” As for half-moons, they are semi-open mechanical structures with the shape of a half-circle that collects and holds runoff water; however, it was not widely adopted by farmers due to the lack of training and equipment available for the implementation stage.[22][24]

Conversely, zai is a widely preferred and used method across Burkina Faso as it is built on already existing traditions and knowledge. In addition to that, a large portion of Burkina Faso has a drier climate with a short rainy season, making it easy and beneficial to implement zai as it retains water and is successful, especially when paired with manure and drought-resistant crops.[25] [26] A combination of manure application with zai resulted in more than a two-fold increase in grain yields compared to that without manure, allowing for higher economic returns for farmers.[27] The implementation of zai enables farmers to improve their crop yields in years of minimal rainfall of about 560 millimetres, where it was found that there was over a 100% increase in crop yields of local grains such as sorghum, millet and maize on farms.[21] [28] Most farming households in Yatenga, Zondoma, Lorun and Passore provinces adopted zai onto their farms, now covering up to 60,000 hectares in northwestern Burkina Faso, and the adoption rate of zai in the Yatenga province is up to 60% as farmers have seen how successful the technique is. [22] [25]

Moreover, zai is the most accessible method out of the three for women as they only need simple tools like the daba, a tillage tool and require the least amount of manual labour, allowing women to be efficient and effective with their land and time.[29] Women are expected to take care of the house and children as well as supply food for their families; therefore, zai would increase household food supply and allow women more time to deal with their day-to-day duties.[30] Women who plant sisnu and maize together in small plots have to deal with weeds would benefit from zai as it decreases the amount of weeds and allows for more nutrients and moisture to be concentrated in the compact surface area.[24] In addition to that, an article focusing on women, including female farmers in Burkina Faso by Roncoli et al., (2001), found that most women have a strong social network where they help one another during times of drought and food scarcity and with the use of zai, there will be higher quantities of excess yields for women to share, strengthening the network and creating more resilient communities.[31] Moreover, using zai, female farmers would have higher-yielding fields, increasing their importance in the household and the community, allowing them to have greater involvement in decisions regarding sales and household consumption.[31]

Core Analysis

Changes of production:

Equal Access to Resources

Articles by Doss (2001, 2013) have found that women actively participate in agriculture in many traditional farming communities, helping with weeding, planting, and harvesting, among other activities.[32][33] The zai method's ability to give women equal access to essential agricultural resources is one of its main features. Women can benefit from this improved productivity because they are frequently in charge of producing food in their homes. Women can gain from increased agricultural productivity provided resources like water and organic matter are used efficiently. This zai technique feature can greatly enhance the lives of women and their families in an area where food security is a common worry.[32][33]

Reduced Drudgery

A report from Peterman et al. (2011) found that women who farm may find it less physically taxing if they use the zai approach.[34] The planting trenches or basins lessen the need for ongoing physical effort, like moving bulky water containers. This can give women more time and energy to devote to other pursuits, such as schooling or well-paying jobs. Additionally, the zai approach lessens the physical strain that women face when farming. In the past, women in these areas have had to irrigate their crops by carrying bulky water buckets. Because the zai pits effectively absorb and store rainfall, they minimize the need for ongoing manual labour. Women experience less physical strain, and their time and energy are also freed up. Women can now investigate other options, like taking up income-generating hobbies or going to school, as farming is less gruelling. Women in these societies may have more balanced and satisfying lives as a result of this empowerment.[34]

Diversification of Crops

A greater variety of crops can be grown thanks to the zai method's enhanced soil richness and moisture retention. Diversification of crops for consumption improves food security and health outcomes for everyone, including women.[35] Many crops offer a more nutrient-dense and well-balanced diet for women and their families, improving overall health and well-being. Growing a range of crops improves food security and gives women more opportunities to participate in traditional and culturally meaningful agricultural practices.[36]

Community Production

Reports from Tegbaru et al. (2021) and Deere & Doss (2006) found that the zai method is frequently a community-based strategy where participants exchange techniques and expertise.[37][38] By actively engaging in these knowledge-sharing endeavours, women can expand their social networks and gain access to information on better agricultural techniques. Moreover, the zai technique is frequently applied in a community-based manner. Community members exchange practices and knowledge pertaining to the zai approach, promoting empowerment and teamwork. Through active participation in these knowledge-sharing events, women expand their social networks and acquire the necessary knowledge on how to improve agricultural methods. Through active participation in the community, women can elevate their status and become valuable contributors to the long-term growth of agriculture.[37][38]

Changes in knowledge generation and transmission:

The zai method is a traditional agricultural method that, for a time, was viewed as lost in mainstream farming practices in Burkina Faso. As the zai method gains popularity due to its effectiveness at water retention, it is important to evaluate who has access to this information and how, as potential inequities may be at play.

Knowledge Transmission of zai

While many farmers may be familiar with the concept of zai in Burkina Faso, it is important to look at those who chose to adopt it and how they learned about the zai method. A series of interviews conducted with villages in northern Burkina Faso found that the majority, or 72% of the farmers who had adopted zai, had learned about it from their parents or neighbours in their own village.[25] This is compared to those trained by agricultural extension services such as the government, NGOs (11%) or farmers from other villages (9%). Slingerland & Stork noted that while frequent travel and exchange between communities exist, farmers still need to obtain their motivation to apply zai from observing it elsewhere.[25] This supports the conclusion of the importance of local farmer-to-farmer communication in promoting the adoption of new methods, which has been observed worldwide.[39][40] A study of zai in Kenya found that membership in farmer groups, access to agricultural extension services and water and soil conservation training increased the likelihood of zai adoption.[41]

Gender Barrier to Knowledge Transmission

The main mechanisms through which farmers learn about and then are then motivated to adopt zai are peer networks and agricultural extension services. Gender equity in zai knowledge transmission must include equal access to these groups. A study of women’s participation in farming groups in Nigeria found that farming groups were male-dominated and that the top barrier women faced in joining the group was financial constraints.[42] The researchers noted that even though women were more economically challenged, they were expected to pay the same dues and fines as men. Other top barriers noted were: women not being a part of crucial decision-making processes, women not being considered for leadership, and women experiencing discrimination.

Turning to agricultural extension services, a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute found that women farmers in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, and Ethiopia have significantly less access to extension services than men.[43] Proposed reasons for the reduced access to extension services for women include: the perception bias that women are not farmers, the inaccurate belief that knowledge delivered to a man in the house will trickle down to women, women’s lack of resources or education, and women farmers not feeling comfortable working with male extension agents.[43]

Equitable Knowledge Transmissions

The report from the International Food Policy Research Institute noted that three main strategies have been proposed to reform women's access to farming knowledge fall into the categories of targeting female household members, service providers, or politicians.[43] Specific strategy examples include hiring more female extension agents and adopting affirmative action in farming groups. The report's authors noted that while some of these strategies have succeeded, they can be challenging to scale up and are sometimes only done superficially to comply with funding requirements.

Looking towards the future, internet and communication technology may play an increasing role in knowledge transmission generation for farmers in Burkina Faso. A study by Sousa et al (2016) looked at 3G phone ownership as a tool for learning about agricultural practices and described video learning as a democratizing tool that can specifically help overcome information access barriers faced by women.[44] This study built upon a study by Cai & Abbot (2013) of farmers in rural Uganda, which discussed how women prefer video training to text and compared to men who have less access to information outside their local communities and concluded that video training could be effective tools for overcoming gender knowledge inequities.[45]

Changes in social and economic relations:

Social and economic impacts are a critical dimension in understanding the significance of zai as an agricultural method for women in Burkina Faso. According to the FAO, 95% of women in Burkina Faso are involved in subsistence agriculture; however, historically, social and economic decisions are made by men.[46] Regarding isolated economic impact, zai promotes subsistence agriculture and has shown positive trends in economic welfare in Ghana, signified by increased consumption expenditures per capita and household income.[47] Household income and consumption expenditures suggest a decrease in food insecurity; however, there is a lack of literature on how these markers actually reflect the experience and welfare of women in Burkina Faso, given their lack of economic control in the household.

Despite not fully knowing how zai helps women living in male-headed households due to family and gender dynamics, there are essential climate considerations for why zai is primarily implemented within female-headed households and used by female farmers. Women are more likely to adopt climate-smart agricultural solutions because of their gendered vulnerability to climate change risks such as food security.[48] Male-headed farms tend to be more concerned with producing high yields rather than addressing climate-related issues.[49] Despite these different orientations, a vast majority of NGO programs rest under the assumption that women are not agents in agriculture and are more likely to provide tools and resources for zai adoption to men.[49]

Economic Determinants of Zai Adoption

The Zai approach may create chances for women to participate in small-scale agriculturally related businesses that generate money as agricultural output rises. Local markets are a good place for women to sell extra products, which could help their families financially. The Zai approach is expected to boost agricultural yield, which could present economic prospects for women. Increased crop yields can result in surplus produce that can be sold at neighborhood markets, giving women the chance to engage in small-scale revenue-generating ventures. The financial security and general well-being of their family may be greatly enhanced by this increased revenue.[36]

There are notable economic determinants among women-headed households that adopt zai methods. These households tend to have larger total and cultivated land holdings. According to an analysis done using the Heckman 2-step model, there is a 15.8% increase in the likelihood of zai adoption after a unit change in access and ownership of higher-value agricultural farm implements.[49] Access to larger land areas and farming implements is associated with increased wealth which suggests that female-headed households that adopt zai tend to be wealthier than those that do not.[49] This is an important consideration when thinking about building resilience for women via the zai method, aiming not to leave behind the most vulnerable.

While social and economic impacts are key indicators of how zai might impact women specifically, this impact area needs to be better studied in scholarship. Because of zai's role in subsistence agriculture and the participation of women in that specific labour force, there might be a link to agency and capacity building. Although, what goes on within the household regarding the division of resources and money can lead to unseen inequities.

Changes in institutional frameworks:

Institutional factors have been documented to influence smallholders' adoption of land management practices and vice versa; popular practices also influence institutional decisions and policies regarding farmers and agricultural lands. The adoption of zai by farmers in Burkina Faso has led to institutional changes on both a national and local level through policies, credit and farmer organizations. Customary land tenure and ownership processes tend to exclude women and prevent them from having sovereignty over their lands. Lineage elders may restrict women's access to their lands and related income (Kevane, 1998; Jones-Casey, 2019).[50][30] The elders often give full land access and revenue to their male relatives because it reflects poorly on a household if a woman is in charge, as it suggests that the male head is incompetent.[50] The Agrarian and Land Reform policy was implemented to give women authority and national ownership recognition. However, women still often have to bargain for their land rights and demonstrate their association with living male relatives like sons, husbands and fathers, to strengthen their ties and access to their plots of land. [22] [46] On the other hand, to break down financial barriers for female farmers, the National Agricultural Credit Bank has begun to extend credit to women so they can buy more farming equipment and local grain varieties in bulk and have the ability to acquire or lease more land.[46] [51]

On a more local level, farmer organizations provide materials needed to implement zai and lead training workshops to help farmers in villages and towns across Burkina Faso to effectively implement zai, especially female farmers, as they have limited access and time to work their lands and, on occasion, have smaller plots of land and therefore it is a necessity to increase productivity per hectare. [52] [53] Although there have been a few institutional changes, there is still room for zai to create more waves both on a national and local level. For example, farmers who lease land or do not have secure land tenure like migrants and borrowers tend to engage in unsustainable land practices to increase their crop productivity quickly.[30] Therefore, the government could find ways to strengthen and implement lease agreements as well as recognize farmers' rights to land tenure security. In addition, the government could issue legal documents for female farmers recognizing their sovereignty over their lands and implement fines for illegal land acquisition to protect women's access to and income from their lands.[16] Moreover, subsidies for local cereal, drought-tolerant species, and sustainable equipment could be implemented to promote the uptake of agroecological methods like zai. Similarly, the National Agricultural Credit Bank could provide land discounts for female farmers to help them become more food secure and financially stable. On a more local level, farmer organizations could collaborate with female farmers to find willing labour to work women-owned lands by offering lucrative wages and benefits such as reduced prices for locally sourced products such as cotton and okra which many women tend to plant.[25][31]

Discussion & Conclusions

Food Security and restorative agriculture:

In a primarily subsistence-oriented farming context, the zai practice reverses severe land degradation and improves households’ food security and income. In Sahelian countries like Burkina Faso, food security largely depends on national cereal production as more than 80% of people have minimal access to imported goods, and in rural areas especially, grains count for 67% of people’s calorie content.[23] [21] Many households experience chronic seasonal food insecurity. A study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources in 2008 according to Reij et al found that 57.7% of households in the northern region were at risk of food insecurity.[14] However, a study in 2009, found that using zai showed a 40% increase in grain production such as millet, sorghum and maize, creating 80,000 tonnes of food for 500,000 individuals annually.[14] [28] [51] Food security is especially important for women since during the dry periods, women tend to go hungry to be able to feed their children and husbands, and often, they send their children to live with relatives in the city due to food shortages. [26]

However, studies have demonstrated that zai use can reduce food insecurity. With the increased yields from zai, women are able to use their crops and income to provide food for their families, allowing them to keep their children close and have nutrient-dense and enriched diets.[16]  Women have been able to sell the excess grains and crops for money which can be saved to allow for continued  food security during drought periods in July and August when food prices increase.[31] Similarly, in the 1980s, farming families that faced food deficits of six months or more were able to decrease these deficits to three months or less by implementing zai on their lands. [23][54]

Farm households in Burkina Faso were compared in terms of production efficiency, those controlled by men versus those controlled by women, and it was found that yields of the same crop in the same year were lower on women’s plots; however, on average, women’s plots had a higher total value of output per hectare compared to men’s plots since women used agroecological techniques and used a mix of higher value crops.[50] It was also noted that the lower yields on women’s plots were not attributed to inferior soil quality or outdated technology; instead, it was the lack of willing labour to work their fields. A reallocation of manual labour from men’s to women’s fields was estimated to raise household agricultural production and food security by up to 20%.[50]

Moreover, evidence suggests a significant relationship between household food insecurity and formal education, where educated farmers are more likely to adopt new technologies and agroecological methods, increasing their productive capacity and improving their nutritional status.[27] [55] In addition, 97.9% of farmers perceived zai as being beneficial for farming, being easy to use, increasing food security by increasing yield, and reducing the risk of crop failure.[26] Overall, the application of zai onto farms in Burkina Faso increases crop productivity, which, as a result, improves household food security, total household income, and total consumption expenditure.

Replicability of Zai

Zai originated in Burkina Faso but has since expanded throughout sub-Saharan Africa, specifically into Mali, Niger, and Ghana. Farmers in areas characterized by declining soil health, erratic rainfall patterns, and soil moisture stress have succeeded with this novel approach, which aims to revitalize damaged farmlands and replenish soil fertility. The fact that zai has been successful in Burkina Faso is evidence of both its capacity to adapt to local farming methods and the unique obstacles that farmers in the area confront.[47] [25][56] Another nation where zai has had a significant influence is Mali. These articles provide insight into the practice and promotion of zai in Mali, highlighting programs like networks and schools that promote information sharing. The fact that zai is found in Mali indicates that it works well in a variety of agricultural environments and may be adopted and used by farmers who face different difficulties.[57][58] Zai has also been widely adopted in Niger. These essays demonstrate its use and promotion across the nation, highlighting its significance in resolving problems with crop yields, water management, and soil fertility. Zai's success in Niger serves to reinforce its reputation as a beneficial agricultural technique that is applicable in a variety of sub-Saharan African environments and crosses national boundaries.[59][58]

The goal of the research conducted in Makueni County, Kenya, was to better understand the factors that affect the adoption of zai pit farming technique, which is intended to provide food security in an area that struggles with hot, dry weather and little rainfall. The adoption of zai pits in Makueni is minimal despite their success in other parts of Kenya. Based on the TAM and Rogers model, the study polled ten extension staff and forty-eight farmers. Zai pits are seen favourably by the majority of respondents (97.9%), while perceived work intensity and expense are obstacles.[26] Adoption is influenced by group membership, especially in communal groupings (chamas). For a wider adoption of zai pits in Kenya, the research suggests more practical extension services and cooperation between the government and non-governmental organizations.[26] [49] Another nation where zai has found an accepting audience is Ghana. Zai's flexibility and efficacy in various agricultural situations are demonstrated by the engagement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like World Vision and Oxfam in its promotion and implementation in Ghana. The cooperative initiatives between global organizations and regional farmers highlight zai's broader relevance in advancing sustainable farming methods. [47][60]

Limitations & Future Considerations:

The discussion of limitations and future considerations is framed as analyzing whether zai adoption is a transformative change or an adjustment strategy. It is important to acknowledge how or if these solutions address underlying social drivers of inequity and climate-related risks.[61] Mainstream transformation rhetoric risks justifying the current status quo without addressing root causes and institutional change. Since we are relying on a literature review for this case study, we will not say whether or not zai is transformative. Since our analysis takes a gendered lens, we can hypothesize the conditions in which zai might lend itself to being a transformative climate-smart agricultural solution in Burkina Faso.

In terms of being a climate-smart solution, a few considerations determine the longevity of zai as a method. Burkina Faso mainly relies on subsistence agriculture methods such as zai, which at its core promotes a more diversified landscape. Action should be taken to not only bring more women into adopting zai but also farmers who currently rely on industrialized or large-scale mono-crop farms, paying attention to the socioeconomic drivers encouraging industrialised agriculture.[62] What complicates this is a dominating narrative of how vulnerable countries need to adopt modern farming techniques in order to participate in the globalized economy. These "modern methods" are typically technologically dependent and support high-yield, high-value mono-crop farms as opposed to subsistence farming.[63]

Even though the method is designed for low rainfall, there does need to be rainfall in the first place. Keeping this in mind, representatives of the global North should not force or suggest zai without addressing climate change at a larger scale and Western nations' contributions to carbon emissions.[64] Without this larger shift in accountability, zai is a short-term solution in Burkina Faso. It also promotes the narrative that vulnerable nations must bear the brunt of "solving" the issues associated with the climate crisis because they are most at risk, even though this risk stems from Western nations' consumption and production behaviours.

As mentioned in the social and economic analysis, there is also a lack of literature surrounding how or if the adoption of zai changes dynamics within male headed households. This targets flows of money within the households as well as household responsibilities. By encouraging women to adopt zai without these considerations we might be adding to women's triple burden, referring to the expectation of women to do "unpaid housework, paid labour, and childcare", as well as community care.[65] This was especially exacerbated by the economic and social impacts of COVID-19.[66]

As we explained in our study, there are a lot of underlying issues that prevent women from accessing land and wealth. We put forward zai as a means to address these issues; however, it is not an excuse for such problems. While zai is favourable for women, in order for it to make meaningful climate and social change, it must be accompanied by land-rights, education, and efforts to support decision making power and agency for women in Burkina Faso, especially in male-headed households.

Policy Opportunities:

As discussed earlier in this report, currently, there is political, social, and economic instability in Burkina Faso that has resulted in decreased access to pasture and farmlands, displaced people and increased food insecurity. We recognize that within the current context of Burkina Faso agricultural policy is only one of many urgent priorities. However, we feel it is important to synthesize the learnings of this report to provide recommendations for local and national governments, NGOs and grass-roots organizations in developing policies that will address food insecurity through zai in ways that are equitable and just.

Key leverage points for policymakers to increase zai adoption would be increasing knowledge transmission and restructuring institutional frameworks. From a knowledge transmission perspective, there is currently organic knowledge dissemination happening within communities, but by increasing the resources of agricultural extension services and partnering with farmers' groups, policymakers could further increase the adoption. To enable equitable knowledge transmission, these programs should consider policies that ensure inclusivity training for extension workers, ensuring female extension workers are available for female farmers and even developing online programs to expand knowledge reach and accessibility.

Looking at institutional frameworks, there are upfront labour and financial barriers to implementing zai. Programs could be developed to provide monetary incentives to help overcome these. Additionally, as discussed, farmers facing unstable land tenure are less likely to invest in sustainable farming methods, so developing programs to decrease this instability could have a multitude of benefits, including promoting long-term land management thinking.


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