Burkina Faso: Rise of a New Industrial Ground?

Wedged between Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Mali lies a nation called Burkina Faso. To Geographers, the country is simply a landlocked nation with high population density, few natural resources, and fragile soil. To economists at the World Bank, it is one of the world’s poorest countries, with 47% of its population living below the poverty line. However, to the people of Burkina Faso, it is a land of enormous opportunities.

The phrase ‘turning weakness into strengths’ is no news for the people of Kassena, a village in the Southeast of Burkina Faso, who have found innovative ways to build their homes. The architecturally beautiful town was built using vernacular methods such as adobe, peat moss, or reed. The houses are made using a sun-dried mix of clay, soil, straw, and cow droppings moistened to a perfect mortar, then mixed by foot to create strong pottery-like structures. This is then followed by mud-brick constructions of indigenous people in the village by adding layers when needed to maintain the necessary wall thickness to withstand rainstorms and extreme temperatures. This is particularly fascinating as it can get up to 45 degrees in Burkina Faso, and so these techniques help with the lack of air conditioners.

Many vernacular methods such as adobe, reed, or peat moss are often associated with underdevelopment. Still, ironically, according to Redshift, these methods are far more sustainable than contemporary architecture seen today. Burkinabé architect, Diébédo Francis Kéré, built a school in his village, Gando, with walls made out of compressed clay blocks and roofing made from cheap steel bars. He says his aim was "to create a building that responded the best to the need of the climate and the need of the people, using the most available material.” Kéré experimented with a clay and cement hybrid that was durable enough to withstand the semi-arid environment’s high temperatures.

Investment opportunities

While this building method is not widely popular, with more research and investment, these methods can pave the way for more sustainable and efficient construction industry in the country. As it stands, Burkina Faso has undergone numerous economic reforms to increase its attractiveness to investors. Effective January 2008, the nation reduced the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 30% and now allows full repatriation of profits, 100% foreign ownership of shares in local companies and many tax exemptions. However, it is essential to note that investments in sectors such as mining, financial services, and telecommunications are subject to restrictions.

Also, driving the government’s desire to attract more investment is the economy’s vulnerability to price movements in cotton and gold. Burkina Faso is the largest cotton producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, and roughly 50% of the population derive their income from it, leaving the economy highly exposed to market risk. Therefore, the exploration of new industrial goods would not only provide good returns, but it will also contribute to the sustainable development of the nation's economy.

As is common in the African continent, opportunities abound, but these need to be uncovered and harnessed through investment. Burkina Faso is no different, and the use of unpopular but viable building techniques is just one instance of the nation's potential that can readily be tapped into.