Assessing and mapping soil degradation in local farm communities in Soudano-Sahelian agro-ecosystems


Georges Félix (FSE WageningenUR)
Johannes Scholberg (FSE WageningenUR)
Laurent Cournac (IRD France)


Approximately 13% (out of 24%) of global degrading lands are located in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA; Bai et al., 2008) and include intensively weathered and infertile soils (Bationo et al., 2007). Although agricultural-based economies prevail, low yields limit socio-economic development due to degraded soils, shallow rooting, poor water infiltration, retention, and storage along with poor inherent soil fertility (Lahmar et al., 2012). In Burkina Faso, degraded soils represent 4% of the land area and affect more than 1 million farmers (Bai et al., 2008). On top of that, the number of people and herd population are ever-increasing, while agricultural lands are shrinking, making it more complicated to restore fertility using periodic fallows. If restored, these degraded soils could potentially contribute to local food provision and global carbon sequestration. Increasing soil organic matter is closely related to soil fertility enhancement. Innovative practices that the indigenous farmers are applying include the use of biomass from native woody shrubs (NWS) that naturally occur in the landscape as soil amendments. These “cut-and-carry” systems are currently being studied in experimental stations with promising results. This MSc thesis will focus on identifying local innovative systems, evaluate agronomic performances and analyse their development potential, taking into account resource availability and social, environmental and economic issues. This knowledge will be used to analyse and explore the potential role of NWS as a central component in existing no-till mulch-based cropping systems as proposed by Lahmar et al., (2012).


Characterise current state of soil degradation and map the socio-economic diversity of land-use systems.


  • determining the social demands for ecosystem services in a case study area by interviews, household surveys, participant observation, and literature study
  • generating soil maps (i.e. local soil classification, degradation status, distribution and use of woody shrubs)
  • measuring soil quality parameters at the landscape level
  • link soil quality to crop performance
  • applying policy (and local by-laws) definition frameworks and tools
  • determining social and institutional implications of selected policies/practices

Experiences gained

  • preparation of a detailed MSc proposal
  • working in a case study region in Burkina Faso
  • soil sampling, classification and mapping  techniques
  • crop growth and yield performance assessment
  • interviewing farmers and other relevant stakeholders
  • household data collection and analyses
  • developing and/or applying bio-economic models and policy frameworks
  • writing an MSc thesis (and preferably a manuscript for a journal) in English