Promoting out-of-season crops
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CTA. 1986. Promoting out-of-season crops. Spore 2. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44437
A major operation to promote out-of-season crops was established in 1984 in Niger to help people overcome the worst of the drought It generated considerable popular support: many government agencies and departments, NGOs (non-governmental...
A major operation to promote out-of-season crops was established in 1984 in Niger to help people overcome the worst of the drought It generated considerable popular support: many government agencies and departments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and agricultural officials all coordinated their efforts in order that the most appropriate sites for such crops could be identified and used. Foreign aid, such as that from UNICEF, the World Bank, the European Development Fund, the French Cooperation Ministry, and the French Caisse Centrale de Cooperation Economique, helped to finance the operation, notably for the necessary inputs such as seeds and the improvement of water sources for irrigation. At the same time, other drought-stricken countries in the Sahel also launched intensive programmes to develop out-of-season crops. Such cultivation is now considered to be the best way of exploiting groundwater sources whose often hidden potential has only lately been recognized. After operating for two years, a preliminary evaluation can now be made of this approach. When first launched in Niger, its promoters not only saw it as a means to deal with the immediate crisis but also as part of a long-term development process. But with the return of more or less ~ normal rainfall patterns, have these crops been abandoned as emergency measures that are no longer necessary ? Or have they been integrated as part of the permanent farming practices in the regions concerned ? Although this type of out-of-season cultivation is often associated by many with Niger, it is not restricted to this country. In Senegal, market gardens flourish even in the dry season. In Mali, government programmes have strived for years to diminish climatic risks by promoting out-of-season vegetable production. But in Niger the 'renaissance' of this kind of cultivation was particularly innovative and well organized. At the same time, the drought over the past few years also tended to bring to the fore a form of traditional cultivation, practised mostly by women, that had never been given much importance. Over the last two years, the amount of land used for out-of-season crops increased by between two and three fold in some of these countries. In Niger, for example, it is estimated that 62,000 ha were under out-ofseason crops in 1985 as opposed to only 29,000 ha in 1983. It is still too soon to say whether such crops will be maintained or whether they will regress, despite the improved climatic conditions. It seems clear, however, that integrating an emergency measure into the normal farming routine raises several questions that must be addressed if out-of-season cropping is to continue. Out-of-season crops were launched during a crisis when emergency conditions overruled normal economic and technological considerations. Now regarded as a long-term option under normal conditions, these crops are no longer cost-effective. Once seen as miracle solutions during the drought, out-ofseason crops must now be evaluated under more objective economic, social and technological conditions. In Niger, the cost of the operation begun in 1984 reached $US 2.4 million for a production between 30-40,000 tonnes. One of the major operating costs was that for water supply which, although variable, was always significant. For the moment, the contribution to producers' income is moderate. If intensified, modernized and extended, these crops could in the long term show their worth and justify the investment that they now demand. For they are not only a solution to replace unreliable rain-fed cereal crops but also a source of supplementary income. Coming as they do during the dry season, which is generally a period of low agricultural activity in the Sahel, they prolong the working season. Out-ofseason production, an important source of supplementary food, thus generates income during a period when other sources have dried up. Even if the sale of such produce rarely generates significant income (except for those who specialize in export crops or in supplying cities from peri-urban areas), such revenue becomes important because of its timing. It provides much needed cash during the off-season and enables farmers to have a more regular source of income. Many were very interested in this aspect and asked the appropriate agencies to help them develop such crops. Certain individuals even took the initiative themselves to dig deep wells and to improve their plots, more or less successfully. But with other people, there was some reluctance to adopt a practice being promoted by a government agency. This shows the need for extension and community development work so that out-of-season cultivation can become a community-based initiative rather than a government project. Among the reasons for hesitation insofar as subsistence cultivators are concerned, is the resistance to change food habits. In the absence of millet, people are obliged to incorporate leafy green vegetables, carrots, radishes and tomatoes in their diet. But when there is no shortage of millet, what can be done to encourage the continued consumption of these complementary foodstuffs ? Nutritionists believe western vegetables improve the local diet, but more promotional work is needed to deal with resistance caused by lack of familiarity. A movement currently underway, however, tends to favour the distribution of seeds for local crops, such as cowpeas, cassava, onions and sorghum, which can also be grown under irrigation during the dry season. As for out-of-season cash crops, they are much more difficult to develop. One cannot transform a subsistence garden plot into a commercial operation without overcoming many barriers. In order to sell produce, there must be a market. But such a market does not yet exist for such products. The gardens produce the same supplies that already swamp the markets. Another problem is the lack of infrastructure for the transportation and distribution of such perishable products: certain markets are undersupplied while others are oversupplied. Because they are isolated and poorly informed about market conditions, market gardeners are unable to gear their production to demand. Information flow should be improved to avoid wastage and to ensure that they benefit as much as possible from their work. An intermediary solution to this problem would be to store, dry, preserve and process such products on-site. Research in this field has already produced some results: most of this produce can be dried, primarily with solar enerav. The process consists of extracting the water from the product in order to block degradation caused by enzyme action and oxidation and to stop decomposition by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and moulds. Small local projects have already produced appropriate solutions, such as the solar dryer which is very simple, inexpensive, has a large capacity and can be constructed with a standard bed, matting, thatch and mosquito netting. The surplus vegetables produced out of season that cannot be sold in the markets can thus be kept from one year to the next. While there may be losses of vitamins during the drying process, most of the nutritional value of such foodstuffs is maintained. It is thus a promising approach insofar as the producers are unable to control the post-harvest cycle of their produce and have no guaranteed markets when they plant their crops. But this still requires that producers learn such techniques and that consumers adopt the habit of buying dried vegetables. Some dried products, such as potatoes and onions, have already become accepted but it is much more difficult for green vegetables such as lettuce and green beans. However, solutions to the technical and organizational problems of marketing such products represent only one of the ways of encouraging out-of-season crops, which remain a difficult agricultural activity that demands considerable attention and investment. The emergency efforts have shown the problems that could be posed by the supply of inputs, notably seeds, especially those adapted to tropical conditions. The supply of hybrid corn seed, for example, was a failure. Without knowing that hybrid seeds cannot regenerate, farmers kept some of their harvest to sow the next season, not realizing that this traditional practice was useless in this case. European vegetable varieties also proved to be poorly adapted to the ecological and phytopathological conditions of the Sahel. Thus a first priority is the development of adapted seeds that can produce and be distributed throughout the country. Such production of good, local seeds implies the development of better nurseries, the selection of appropriate varieties and the improvement of seed storage techniques. It is also necessary to improve growing techniques for out of season crops, by improving, for example, water extraction. On average, a square metre plot requires at least 20 litres per day. With only simple watering utensils and a 5 m well, one must draw water all day and all night in order do get the 5 cubic metres needed to irrigate a 250 square metre plot. With a Kutasa, or Chadouf, a balance well common throughout the tropics, it takes only three hours. Better still is the oxen-powered Dellou system which reduces the time to one hour and requires little human exertion. Thus the method of water extraction chosen for out-of-season cropping is clearly very important. Significant improvements can be made in irrigation techniques: more accurate spraying and better channelling and holding systems, can when ~ scientifically >> designed increase production with minimal water consumption. Agricultural extension workers can help in all of these tasks provided they receive additional training. Out-of-season crops are all too often ignored in agricultural courses because they are not considered to be important. However, now that they have begun to make a contribution to the national economy, they will no doubt receive more attention from trainina institutions. More widespread and better understood and organized, out-of-season crops whether seen as a dubious investment or a crisis solution can become an important development tool. The word ''mobilization' has often been used with reason to describe operations undertaken to combat the drought in the Sahel. In order to avoid a 'demobilization', these crops can continue to play an important role in both local agricultural practices and the national economy. Bibliography Magazine published by L'Association Fran,caise des Volontaires du Progres, No. 41, April 1985 (B.P. 2, 91310 MONTLHERY, France) Solar food drying. Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange, September 1985 (806 Connecticut Avenue NW. Washington, D.C. 20526 USA). Intensification des productions maraicheres et fruitieres. Departement de Maradi, Niger (Evaluation Report. July 1985, Claire Michalon).