A critical analysis of challenges and opportunities for soil fertility restoration in Sudano-Sahelian West Africa uri icon

abstract

  • Since the 1970s, research throughout West Africa showed that low soil organic matter and limited availability of plant nutrients, in particular phosphorus and nitrogen, are major bottlenecks to agricultural productivity, which is further hampered by substantial topsoil losses through wind and water erosion. A few widely recognized publications pointing to massive nutrient mining of the existing crop-livestock production systems triggered numerous studies on a wide array of management strategies and policies suited to improve soil fertility. Throughout Sudano-Sahelian West Africa, the application of crop residue mulch, animal manure, rockphosphates and soluble mineral fertilizers have been shown to enhance crop yields, whereby yield increases varied with the agro-ecological setting and the rates of amendments applied. In more humid areas of Western Africa, the intercropping of cereals with herbaceous or ligneous leguminous species, the installation of fodder banks for increased livestock and manure production, and composting of organic material also proved beneficial to crop production. However, there is evidence that the low adoption of improved management strategies and the lack of long-term investments in soil fertility can be ascribed to low product prices for agricultural commodities, immediate cash needs, risk aversion and labour shortage of small-scale farmers across the region. The wealth of knowledge gathered during several decades of on-station and on-farm experimentation calls for an integration of these data into a database to serve as input variables for models geared towards ex-ante assessment of the suitability of technologies and policies at the scale of farms, communities and regions. Several modelling approaches exist that can be exploited in this sense. Yet, they have to be improved in their ability to account for agro-ecological and socio-economic differences at various geographical scales and for residual effects of management options, thereby allowing scenario analysis and guiding further fundamental and participatory research, extension and political counselling.

publication date

  • 2006
  • 2007