Sustainable intensification of mixed crop-livestock systems in Southern Mali


The cotton zone of Mali is characterized by high population pressure, and farmers currently rely largely on cotton and livestock for income and on sorghum and millet as staple food crops. Crop-livestock interactions are a key element of these farming systems, accounting for good cotton and cereal yields, food self-sufficiency and income generation. However, the region has faced a vicious cycle of land degradation and decreasing soil fertility, leading to decreasing yields in recent years. We propose to develop and apply a framework to understand these crop-livestock farming systems, their components and interactions. We will test the hypothesis that ecological intensification, consisting of the integrated and judicious use of fertilizer, improved varieties of dual purpose legumes, stable feeding and improved manure management will improve farmers’ livelihoods. 

Simulation models can help us analyse complex interactions in mixed farming systems, and evaluate the potential effect of technologies. However, simulation modelling can only be relevant for farmers if done in conjunction and with continuous feedbacks to and from on-farm participatory testing and evaluation of promising technologies. 

As part of this project, students can focus on one or more of the below topics:

1.  Assessment of the effects of various intensification options on whole farm resource use efficiency, farm production risk and farmers’ resilience for different farm types, drawing on on-farm experiments and/or modeling results

2.  Production gap analysis in both crop and livestock components of the mixed farming systems. This builds on a comparison of potential with actual production levels and includes identifying the major biophysical and socio-economic constraints causing the production gaps, and analyzing to what extent ecological intensification could close the production gaps. 

3.  Livestock feed supply and demand analysis, taking into account transhumance practices, which are common in the regions

Different methodologies can be applied and combined, including field measurements of crop, fodder biomass and livestock production and water and nutrient flows, household surveys and group discussions, and simulation modeling. 


Fieldwork in Southern Mali will be conducted in collaboration with our partners ICRISAT and IER. Local supervision will be done by PhD students.


Students with an interest in interdisciplinary work and systems analysis.


Mali and Wageningen. Students interested in getting involved in the agronomic trials need to plan to be in the region during the growing season (June-October). Others are less restricted in terms of time. 


Katrien Descheemaeker                      0317 – 48 61 02            

Eva Huet