Green revolution for the Sahel
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CTA. 1995. Green revolution for the Sahel. Spore 58. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47121
An agricultural revolution based on cowpeas awaits farmers in the semi-arid belt that stretches across West Africa where there is an opportunity to develop the area into a more productive livestock fattening region to meet help the demands of the...
An agricultural revolution based on cowpeas awaits farmers in the semi-arid belt that stretches across West Africa where there is an opportunity to develop the area into a more productive livestock fattening region to meet help the demands of the growing population further south. Traditionally farmers grow millet intercropped with cowpeas as their subsistence crops, and keep livestock to provide cash. Population pressure on the land is breaking that system down, and rangeland to feed the livestock is decreasing and is befog degraded. This deteriorating situation demands change and researchers at the Sahelian Centre in Niger, set up 13 years ago by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), are meeting this challenge by developing strategies that are quite different from those proposed in the past. The biggest constraint to increasing crop yields is poor soil fertility, not lack of rain. Farmers can no longer fallow land, and all crop residues are needed for roofing houses and feeding livestock. The only input the soil receives is some animal manure. Fertilizers are not widely used as farmers do not spend money on crops which are grown just for their subsistence needs. Past experience has shown that farmers will spend money on crops that can be sold for cash. So the researchers are suggesting that farmers should turn cowpeas into a cash crop. They will be grown separately from millet, planted earlier than at present, and fertilized with locally available rock phosphate. Grown in this way they will produce five to ten times the present yield, and the millet, which will follow the cowpeas in a rotational system, will double their yield. The cowpeas will be grown essentially for hay, and the local, creeping, varieties are ideal as they are simply rolled up into bundles at hervesting, and either stacked or sold in the market. At the moment cowpea hay may sell for more than millet grain. The extra amount of cowpea hay gives the farmer the chance to produce and fatten livestock of greater quality and value than those raised at the moment. This is the basis of a larger marketing system, trading meat for grain, with the wetter regions further south, which have the comparative advantage for growing cereals. The new strategy is dependent on the exploitation of locally available rock phosphate. This system should allow farmers to pay for the fertilizer, though some help might be needed during the transition phase. Another constraint might be the availability of labour, and this is still under study. All other aspects of the new strategy, through, have largely been proved, and researchers feel it should be attractive to farmers without added risk to food security. ICRISAT Shaelian Centre B.P. 12404 Niamey, NIGER