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Burkina Faso Presidential Candidate Campaigns for Environment

As campaigning in Burkina Faso for the upcoming presidential election shifts into high gear, the country's green candidate is running on a unique platform centered on ecology. Despite having only a small following, Ram Ouedraogo hopes his presidential bid will draw attention to the need for the agrarian nation to safeguard its environment.

In a marketplace on the outskirts of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, a local man chants verses from the Koran as people gather for a campaign rally.

As the country moves closer to the November 13 date set for its presidential election, candidates have stepped up their courtship of voters.

But as the event gets started, with just a few onlookers, it's soon clear this rally is different.

Ram Ouedraogo is Burkina Faso's green candidate. In the country's last presidential election in 1998, he finished second behind incumbent President Blaise Compaore.

However, that vote was boycotted by the major opposition parties. And this time around, Mr. Ouedraogo is considered a long shot for victory.

For Mr. Ouedraogo, this campaign season is more a vehicle for disseminating his message of ecology to a nationwide audience.

Burkina Faso, he says, is an arid, landlocked country. It draws its resources from the land. It has no other choice, he says, than to protect its only asset. If not, he says, it will have nothing left.

The country is considered one of the poorest in the world, with an economy dependent upon agriculture.

One of its few potentially profitable exports is cotton. But tariffs levied by richer countries have hobbled exports and made it difficult for Burkinabe cotton to compete on world markets.

The nation has not escaped the food hardships that have plagued the rest of the region this year, either. As in neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso has seen the prices of staple grains skyrocket due to a bad harvest, poor rainfall and locust infestations.

Earlier this year, the U.N.'s World Food Program called upon donor countries to help stave off a possible famine.

Mr. Ouedraogo is critical of President Compaore's handling of the crisis.

We've had a very difficult year, he says, but the party in power has done nothing to release funds to help the people. Now, he says, Mr. Compaore is finding the money to run an expensive campaign complete with t-shirts, caps, and watches to give away.

About a dozen candidates are competing for the presidency in Burkina Faso. Sitting President Compaore is considered the favorite for first round victory.