Yield Gaps and Potential Agricultural Growth in West and Central Africa
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In geological terms, the soils are among the oldest on Earth. Millions of years of wind erosion and leaching of soil nutrients by heavy seasonal rains have left the soils deficient in most of the substances necessary to sustain plant life.
They contain very little phosphorous, one the most important plant nutrients, and insufficient amounts of other essential minerals and of organic matter. The predominant crops grown here— millet, sorghum, cowpeas, cassava— have never been the research priorities of global agricultural research. Since dryland India grows similar crops, research there has made major advances in producing new crop varieties that improve production. Just as important are the socioeconomic constraints of farmers. Manufactured fertilizers are too expensive for most farmers to afford for their staple crops Figure 1.
Since most farmers cannot access credit, they cannot obtain capital to invest in fertilizers. Lack of crop price regulation causes crop prices to drop just when farmers are ready to sell their crops, further prohibiting them from investing in farm improvements. Improved seed is difficult to access.
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Moreover, the most impoverished farmers often have the least secure access to land. Such insecure access means farmers have less ability and desire to invest in the future of the lands they farm. Helping farmers improve their soils in the Sahel therefore means helping farmers find green manure crops to grow alongside their main crops.
Appropriate green manure crops would include trees that do not substantially decrease yields, and whose branches and leaves can be cut and placed on the soil after harvest to increase organic matter enrichment. At the same time, international assistance aimed toward both decreasing prices of manufactured fertilizer and teaching farmers effective techniques of micro-fertilization would be necessary to round out soil improvement measures.
It also allows for a much smaller amount of fertilizer to be purchased than in conventional techniques, and has a far lower likelihood of contributing to environmental problems like water contamination. Along with soil enhancements, improving the genetics of crops grown in the region is one of the central pieces of agricultural science that will be key for the Sahel.
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The variety of plants that results ensures that farmers will have a harvest in almost any year, regardless of droughts or floods, because at least a portion of the plants in their fields will survive. Research station production, on the other hand, has often focused on producing single varieties that improve yields under ideal soil and water conditions. Farmers who grew only one or a few of such ideal varieties would risk complete crop failure, imperiling their food stores for an entire year.
Yield gaps and potential agricultural growth in West and Central Africa :: IFPRI Publications
Yet, new varieties are needed to respond to the increases in maximum temperatures expected to occur in the region. Ideally, researchers and farmers can collaborate on improving existing varieties while creating mixes of crop varieties that minimize risks of failure due to rainfall variability.
Such a joint effort would react to both of the expected climatic shifts predicted here. An alliance between farmers and researchers— as well as extension— could help produce a wider adoption of improved varieties and farmer-friendly, risk-averse techniques like low-density plantings, seed combinations with both late and early-maturing varieties and more targeted applications of animal manure.
The international community could assist with improved farmer and researcher communication by investing in training and expansion of agricultural extension. In addition to knowledge, farmers need more access to credit in order to purchase needed inputs, but the riskiness of credit can ruin farmers almost as thoroughly as can a poor harvest.
Assistance should therefore also be targeted to research on appropriate ways to extend credit, potentially through joint farmer networks that build on existing and growing networks of social support. Along with the challenges already mentioned, the need to incorporate transhumant seasonally-migrating pastoralists into the system will continue to be important. Outsiders who have invested in land here have often invested in prime land, with high water availability from rivers or in the ground. Such areas are necessary to pastoral systems because they provide water that livestock need as they migrate.
The cutting off of herder routes highlights the importance of understanding the full system as completely as possible in making policy and research choices. As science and society become increasingly aware of the contributions of modern agriculture to climate change, appreciation of the need for low-input methods of improving agriculture is emerging. The Sahel, with its minimal current financial resources and susceptibility to continued climate change, will particularly benefit from low-input methods to decrease yield gaps.
Yet developing and refining such low-input methods will require financial support from the international community. In addition, policy makers must build their knowledge of the system as they work to increase production in the region. The importance of the interactions of pastoralism with agriculture, for example, must be recognized. References Aune, J.
Addressing the Yield Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa
Agricultural intensification in the Sahel— the ladder approach. Agricultural Systems Bationo, A. Deb, M. The purpose of this paper is to review the key issues surrounding foreign direct investment FDI in agriculture, and examine the potential impacts of FDI in African agriculture. The authors employ a global economy-wide modelling framework to simulate the effects of growth in FDI in African agriculture.
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