About Me (Jason Tsichlis): Originally from Philadelphia, I graduated from Bates College with a BA in Art and Visual Culture in 2009. From August of that year to March of 2011 I worked as a research technician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. I arrived in Burkina on June 11, 2011 and officially swore in on September 22. I currently serve in a rural village in the northwest part of the country working with a community-based organization. Our projects include large-scale moringa initiatives, significant dry season horticulture interventions, and fruit tree propagation. Upon COS in August/September 2013, I plan to pursue an MS and subsequent PhD in international agricultural development.
About my assignment: I am part of a new Agriculture and Environment program in Burkina Faso charged with helping farmers to better use existing resources and employ techniques to result in increased, but sustainable harvests. The vast majority of Burkinabe are subsistence farmers and volunteers in Burkina have been involved in food production since the Peace Corps first arrived back in the 1960’s. However, volunteers have done these activities while serving in the Health, Small Enterprise Development, Secondary Education, and Girl’s Empowerment programs. Agricultural development and enterprise development have proven themselves to be inextricably linked (92% of economically active Bukinabe directly use resources from their natural environment) and the new program is designed to provide a complete approach to agricultural and economic amelioration.
About Burkina Faso (from the US State Department’s website): Burkina Faso is a landlocked country located in the middle of West Africa’s “hump.” It is geographically in the Sahel–the agricultural region between the Sahara Desert and the coastal rain forests. Most of central Burkina Faso lies on a savanna plateau, 200 meters-300 meters (650 ft.-1,000 ft.) above sea level, with fields, brush, and scattered trees. The largest river is the Mouhoun (Black Volta), which is partially navigable by small craft. Burkina Faso has West Africa’s largest elephant population. Game preserves also are home to lions, hippos, monkeys, warthogs, and antelope. Infrastructure and tourism are, however, not well developed. Annual average rainfall varies from about 100 centimeters (40 in.) in the south to less than 25 centimeters (10 in.) in the north and northeast, where hot desert winds accentuate the dryness of the region. The cooler season, November to February, is pleasantly warm and dry (but dusty), with cool evenings. March-June can be very hot. In July-September, the rains bring a 3-month cooler and greener humid season.
Burkina Faso’s 16.3 million people belong to two major West African cultural groups–the Voltaic and the Mande (whose common language is Dioula). The Voltaic Mossi make up about one-half of the population. The Mossi claim descent from warriors who migrated to present-day Burkina Faso from Ghana and established an empire that lasted more than 800 years. Predominantly farmers, the Mossi kingdom is still led by the Mogho Naba, whose court is in Ouagadougou. With a continued high average fertility rate of 6.2 children per woman of reproductive age, total national population is projected to grow to 21.5 million in 2020. While the average annual national population growth rate is 3.1%, urban areas are growing by over 10% per year. Nearly 65% of population is less than 25 years old. Burkina Faso is an ethnically integrated, secular state. The average population density is 51.4 people per square kilometer (128/sq. mi), but in the center of the country it is about 80 people per square kilometer. Millions of Burkinabe reside in other countries, especially Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. A plurality (60.5%) of Burkinabe are Muslim, but most also adhere to traditional African religions. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, comprise about 24% of the population, with their largest concentration in urban areas.
Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi. The French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, but Mossi resistance ended only with the capture of their capital Ouagadougou in 1901. The colony of Upper Volta was established in 1919, but it was dismembered and reconstituted several times until the present borders were recognized in 1947. The French administered the area indirectly through Mossi authorities until independence was achieved on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, resigned in 1966 following continuous worker strikes and handed power over to Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana, who was head of a government of senior army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of military and then elected governments. Following more worker strikes, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from workers’ unions and was overthrown 2 years later by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and radicals led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed Prime Minister in January 1983, but was subsequently arrested. Efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaore, resulted in yet another military coup d’etat, led by Sankara and Compaore on August 4, 1983. Sankara and Compaore established the National Revolutionary Committee with Sankara as President, and he vowed to “mobilize the masses.” But the committee’s membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning “the country of honorable people.” But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, Sankara was killed in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power in October 1987. Compaore pledged to pursue the goals of the revolution but to “rectify” Sankara’s “deviations” from the original aims. In fact, Compaore reversed most of Sankara’s policies and combined the leftist party he headed with more centrist parties after the 1989 arrest and execution of two military officers, Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingini and Captain Henri Zongo, who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point.