Land husbandry: an environmental challenge
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CTA. 1994. Land husbandry: an environmental challenge . Spore 53. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49468
Farming systems have been under serious threat in most of the sub-Saharan countries of Africa in recent times. This is a result of increasing population pressure, unstable economies both at national and international level, and changing climate....
Farming systems have been under serious threat in most of the sub-Saharan countries of Africa in recent times. This is a result of increasing population pressure, unstable economies both at national and international level, and changing climate. These difficulties have highlighted the need to take an overall view of land husbandry which is not limited solely to production but includes social and cultural factors as well as the need to conserve natural resources. The serious droughts in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years have not only disrupted agricultural production they have also shown the limitations of traditional rural development projects. Other solutions had to be found, hence the land husbandry (or farming systems) approach. This approach capitalizes on the natural resource base but also safeguards it so that production is more reliable and sustainable, explains Christian Barrier of the Caisse Fran\E7aise de D\E9veloppement (French Development Fund) in his book 'Rural development in western Sahelian Africa initial assessment of village-level land husbandry'. The land husbandry or farming systems approach promotes initiatives to improve agriculture and other activities which have been decided by the village community after taking advice from experts. The measures proposed are intended not only to stimulate more intensive production but also. and above all. to ensure sustainability of resources. The measures are not confined to one farmer or group of farmers but to a whole 'farming system', in other words the village and the surrounding land which supports its inhabitants. This includes land under cultivation, land left fallow, woodland and pasture. Even the bush itself is considered to be part of the system because it is an important source of food for Sahelian people. The French geographers, Sautter and Pelissier, have defined a village farming system as a collection of renewable and non-renewable natural resources which are on the one hand adapted and on the other hand exploited more or less systematically by any given agricultural community. The measures needed Many factors have led to the necessity for this type of development. In the first place, land is a finite resource and demographic growth has meant that fields must be cultivated over and over again and yet without depleting the soil 'resource'. In some regions it has even become necessary to bring marginal land into cultivation such as sloping or impoverished land, again without exhausting the soil, because the demand for food is continually increasing. At the same time farmers have had to abandon their traditional agricultural practice of allowing long periods of fallow for the soil to regenerate. In order to keep the young people at home in their villages it was necessary to rethink the whole system and take into account a number of factors such as sustainability and availability of land, factors which had previously not been considered. The droughts also had indirect repercussions: forced to abandon their now barren land, the Sahelian people migrated in huge numbers, for example from the Yatenga to Burkina Faso and Niger. Some have settled in towns, where there are serious difficulties in finding enough food, and some in the few remaining areas of still productive land, where they demand more from the soil than it can possibly yield. Finally, cash crop farming has also changed many production systems. Farmers have either not given sufficient attention to maintaining the fertility of their soil or, if they have, they have not always been able to buy the inputs necessary to restore large areas of degraded soil. Strategies and methods If African farmers no longer have the option of bringing new land into cultivation in order to increase production they have no choice but to intensify their farming. In order to do this in a sustainable way they have to maintain the value of their resources of soil, water, pasture and forests. But how is this to be achieved? Land husbandry/farming systems projects are an attempt to respond to this challenge. In such projects an interdisciplinary team first establishes a 'map' of the area. Geographers, sociologists and agronomists draw up a comprehensive plan of the situation on the ground that is as precise as they can make it. Lengthy enquiries are needed to achieve a full picture of the system and this picture serves as a tool for determining appropriate solutions. For the Katon project in southern _ Mali, supported by the Association c. Fran\E7aise des Volontaires du Progr\E8s (AFVP) (Association of Development Volunteers of France), aerial photography was used to provide a key to all the fields on to the map. Characteristics such as soil fertility, valleys, slopes and flood plains were indicated as well as a diagnosis of each production system, such as the size of the household, food consumption, livestock, the number of working adults, and the agricultural equipment owned. At the end of this exercise the team had a detailed account of the village. From this base it was possible to tackle the next phase, the discussions. This involved setting out both the technical and village based diagnosis and allowed discussions between the project team and the villagers, writes Denis Marchal of AFVP. This process has as its starting point the reality of the African situation including the ecological environment; the technologies currently in use; the land which is available and the social and economic links between the people in the village. The development will consist of a logical organization of different types of land according to their agricultural potential and according to their actual physical configuration. This helps to identify how to make the best use of the land without risking further degradation of the soil and even, when possible, improving it writes Gerard Josset in his book Amenagements villageois et du terroir 'Village development and the land'. Planners c and implementers Not only does the land husbandry approach start from the African reality, it also allows the village community to undertake its own development. The land usage map devised by the experts is only intended to give an indication of possible courses of action open to farmers which they can themselves adopt. Whereas in earlier development projects local people were thought of merely as the labour force, in this new approach they are recognized as both planners and implementers. The Club du Sahel recognizes the importance of rural communities, and the individuals of which they are composed, as principal actors for getting the best out of their land and aims to strengthen their ability to decide on courses of action. In forestry projects in Niger, the classified forests are managed jointly by the forestry service and the people of the surrounding villages who have created forest cooperatives. The forestry service relies on a survey for the plan of work and possible development. As a consequence of this new approach to development, groups, associations and federations are set up to put into practice the decisions taken. In most programmes of this type, a committee is elected to manage the land. In a livestock development project in eastern Senegal, units of pasture land have been defined and put under the authority of inter-village groups charged with making sure that arrangements for the management of the pasture are respected. Elsewhere, on other projects, it is the village level credit schemes, grain banks, warehouses, or the committee for managing equipment belonging to a cooperative which have led the way towards improving agriculture and commerce. Most of the leaders of these groups benefit from training opportunities such as literacy and numeracy courses. These are necessary given the changes that are being demanded of farmers who can no longer rely on the techniques used by their fathers and grandfathers. In the PICOGERNA project (Integrated project for the conservation and management of natural resources) implemented from 1990-1993 in Senegal, Fari Bala Peul cattle herder, recalled that he was twenty years old when the project started and was unable to read. After ten years he has become a local community leader following literacy training in his own language, and learning basic veterinary skills. Furthermore it is not unusual for agricultural development measures to be followed by other community initiatives such as digging wells, constructing grinding mills or grain banks. Land management. the debate These technologies are still in an experimental stage. The land husbandry approach cannot claim to be an unqualified success and it is not possible to introduce it in all situations. If land is already seriously degraded it is better to adopt emergency measures rather than the land husbandry approach which demands thought and time. Another problem is the question of land tenure. How can rural Africans be encouraged to undertake long term development plans and to invest in the regeneration of the environment while uncertainties continue to hang over the status of land ownership, asks Denis Marchal of AFVP? Ownership is not always well defined and much of the land is merely rented for a few years, or even for only one year. An erosion control project in Mali proposed a series of measures for preventing and controlling the processes of erosion such as barriers, hedges, dams and reforestation. But the tenants refused to undertake such work on land which did not belong to them. Another problem which also relates to land tenure has been highlighted by Christian Barrier. Village communities are generally associated within geographic limits of which the local people are aware but about which they are reticent to give details, partly because they are often contested by neighbouring communities. The resources of a given area, its pasture, animals, trees etc., may be under the control of individuals or communities quite separate from the community living in the area under consideration. Land tenure is not the only problem facing management of the land. Livestock is often shown to be the victim of this type of approach. The cattle herder who used to graze his animals on the land is hardest hit when fields are allocated to a different and specific use. By limiting land usage to members of the village it is impossible to recognize the status of herders who use the land but are not part of the village community. According to Andre Marty of IRAM, the people who live in the village are not the only users of the land. Nomads, hunters, those who cut wood, all use the land which may belong to others and they must be taken into account when considering land management. Andre Marty concludes that unless the present generation of land management projects takes proper account of these issues, there is a danger that inequalities will be accentuated with unfortunate consequences for local development and social peace. It is not always possible to apportion blame for failures of land management. Cultivators will not undertake development unless there are good economic reasons for doing so. In many regions vegetables cannot be sold because the means to sell them do not exist. Women are mainly responsible for food production but they cannot start up new initiatives because they cannot obtain credit. In order that better land husbandry may be achieved in all its aspects, it will be necessary first to remove such bottlenecks. Despite all these difficulties, good land husbandry is nevertheless recognized as necessary by all those who are concerned about sustainable development. In order for it to be more widely adopted it is essential to take into account all those involved and to reach an agreement on the long term use of land. Achieving this consensus will be a major task in itself.