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Burkina Faso - Geography

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. Consisting of a vast lateritic plateau of low altitude, the country is covered with a more or less fertile wooded savanna. 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.

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.

The average altitude is 400 meters (1,300 ft) and the difference between the highest and lowest terrain is no greater than 600 meters (2,000 ft). Burkina Faso is therefore a relatively flat country, with a very few localised exceptions.

Burkina Faso is made up of two major types of countryside. The larger part of the country is covered by a peneplain which forms a gently undulating landscape with, in some areas, a few isolated hills, the last vestiges of a precambrian massif. The south-west of the country forms a sandstone massif, where the highest peak is found: Ténakourou (749 m, 2,450 ft). The massif is bordered by sheer cliffs up to 150 meters (490 ft.) high.

Three main rivers, the Machoun (the only perennial river), the Nazinon and the Nakambé criss-cross this continental country, without access to the sea. The largest river is the Mouhoun (Black Volta), which is partially navigable by small craft. The country owed its former name of Upper Volta to three rivers which cross it: le Mouhoun (formerly called the Black Volta), le Nakambé (the White Volta) and le Nazinon (the Red Volta). Le Mouhoun, along with la Comoé which flows to the south west, is the country's only river which flows year-round.

The basin of the Niger River also drains 27% of the country's surface. Its tributaries (le Béli, le Gorouol, le Goudébo and le Dargol) are seasonal streams, and only flow for 4 to 6 months a year but can cause large floods.

The country also contains numerous lakes. The principal lakes are Tingrela, Bam and Dem, and the large ponds of Oursi, Béli, Yomboli, and Markoye. Water shortages are often a problem, especially in the north of the country.

The large northern ecoregions, Liptako Sahel (LIP), Gondo-Mondoro (GM), and Gourma Malien (GR), belong to the Sahelian Region and are dominated by shrub savanna and steppe. Moving south, the Plateaus of Samo, Gourmantché (PG), and the Nord Plateau Mossi (NPM–North Mossi Plateau) dominate the north-central part of the country, where population density is high. The Mossi people have been farming here for generations, almost exclusively planting millet and sorghum, particularly in the numerous valleys and low-lying areas.

The southern ecoregions, from the Pendjari plains (PEN) in the east, to the Bwa Plateau and Comoé Poni Basin (PONI) in the southwest, cover a wide bioclimatic gradient. With rainfall varying from 650 mm to over 1,000 mm, they extend over the more humid Sudanian Region. The more favorable climate and permanent rivers make them quite suitable to agriculture, with cash crops becoming increasingly important. Village of Oursi on the edge of the Mare d’Oursi, a wetland of international importance for Palearctic bird migrations.

The most obvious change in Burkina Faso’s land cover is the major expansion of croplands. In 1975, when the population was just over 6.1 million, savannas were still the dominant landscape. Even then, agricultural development was beginning to fragment the wooded savannas in central areas of the country.

In 2013, the population of Burkina Faso reached 17 million and changes in land cover change were striking. Burkina Faso’s natural landscapes have been rapidly altered by human activity. Conversion into croplands represents a major transformation, leaving few remnants of the former vegetation structure and diversity. In the north, steppe areas remained fairly stable because this land cover class occurs in the more arid Sahel, where more marginal soils and lower rainfall severely limit crop cultivation.

In 1975, 82.5 percent of Burkina Faso’s land was still covered by natural land cover classes (forest, gallery forest, savanna, steppe, or rocky land). In 2013, only 57.4 percent of the country’s land was occupied by these land cover classes. Between 1975 and 2013, savannas (Sahelian and Sudanian) shrank by 39 percent. The country’s land area covered by rainfed agriculture increased from only 15 percent in 1975 to 39 percent in 2013, an overall increase of 160 percent. This agricultural expansion exceeds 4 percent per year on average, which corresponds to 1,720 sq km of cropland added each year.

Agricultural areas increased only slightly in the north and central plateau, where unfavorable rainfall and rocky soils have kept agricultural expansion to a minimum, but the other two-thirds of the country has experienced considerable agricultural development. Tree and wooded savannas and the gallery forests of the Sudanian zone have been heavily altered to make room for rainfed crops. The progression of croplands across Burkina Faso during the last four decades has replaced natural landscapes with crop fields and fallows. The only natural landscapes of significant size are restricted to protected areas, and these now stand in sharp contrast against the dominant surrounding agricultural landscape.

In 2013, Burkina Faso ranked second in West Africa behind Nigeria as the most agricultural country (in percent of land covered by crops). Burkina Faso is close to reaching the point where human-shaped landscapes cover over half of the country. It seems possible that, in the near future, savannas, woodlands,and forests may only exist in isolated, protected areas that will no longer be connected by natural corridors.

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Page last modified: 04-06-2017 19:01:15 ZULU