Effects of technical interventions on flexibility of farming systems in Burkina Faso: Lessons for the design of innovations in West Africa
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African farmers have always been exposed to climatic and economic variability and have developed a range of coping strategies. Such strategies form part of flexible farm management, an ability that may prove very valuable in the face of future climate change and market dynamics. The generally low productivity of African smallholder farming systems is usually addressed by research and development institutions by a variety of solutions for improving farm performance. However, changes to the system may affect the flexibility of farms and thus their ability to cope with variability. We quantified the added value of being flexible and how this flexibility is affected by technical changes, such as composting and cattle fattening recurrently proposed and promoted by research and development institutions and projects. The study was conducted in two villages of the agro-pastoral area of Burkina Faso, where livestock, cereals and cotton are the main farming activities. A whole-farm simulation model was developed based on information gathered during focus group meetings with farmers and detailed individual monitoring of farmers' practices. The model simulates farmers' decision rules governing the management of the cropping and livestock farm components, as well as crop and livestock production and farm gross margin. Using the existing decision rules, current farm performance was simulated by assessing the cereal balance, the fodder balance and the whole farm gross margin. Then, by comparing the mean and the coefficient of variation of these indicators resulting from (a) the existing decision rules (baseline scenario) and (b) a set of less flexible rules (rigid scenario), the added value of flexible management was revealed. The adoption of composting practices allowed a slight increase in gross margin associated with a decrease in its between-year variability in comparison with conventional practices. Cattle fattening only led to a higher gross margin in the years with high rainfall and low input prices when no management practices were used to limit dependence on external input. This kind of technical change thus requires increased management agility by farmers to deal with climatic and economic variability. We conclude that assessing the impact of technical interventions not only in terms of productivity but also in terms of changes in flexibility is useful for a better understanding of potential adoption of technical changes. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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