Sustainable soil fertility management in Benin: learning from farmers

Saïdou, A.; Kuyper, T.W.; Kossou, D.K.; Tossou, R.; Richards, P.


The perception of farmers from the Atacora and Savè regions of Benin was studied about the causes and consequences of land degradation and corrective actions for sustaining soil fertility. Research methods in this diagnostic study included group discussions, using non-standardized unstructured interviews and participant observations. Farmland degradation leading to declining yields, and land tenure arrangements were identified as the main constraints on the sustainability of agriculture. In both regions the farmers stated that climatic changes (less and more irregular rainfall), run off, erosion, and overexploitation of farmlands caused land degradation. Soil fertility status was assessed on the basis of dicotyledonous weeds, soil texture and colour, and soil fauna (earthworm casting activity). Farmers have adapted their cropping systems to the local environment by developing traditional and new strategies and activities that could contribute to maintain or enhance crop productivity. These strategies include animal manure, inorganic fertilizer, crop rotation, a five-year fallow, extensive cropping systems with cassava or egusi melon, and emigration. Land tenure arrangements between landlords and migrants affect strategies that can be applied to maintain soil fertility. The importance of building mutual trust and the need to experiment with different land tenure arrangements are indicated. A framework for interactive research where knowledge is collectively generated is proposed in order to test the effectiveness and applicability of some of these local innovations not yet well understood by conventional science.