Soil and land degradation poses a great challenge for sustainable development worldwide and, in Cabo Verde, has strongly affected both people’s livelihood and the environment. Dryland food production in Cabo Verde faces steep slopes, inadequate practices, irregular intense rain, recurrent droughts, high runoff rates, severe soil erosion and declining soil fertility, leading to the inefficient use of rainwater. Despite the enormous investment in soil and water conservation measures (SWC), land degradation due to water erosion is still rife and dryland crop productivity remains low. Sustainable land management (SLM) techniques that reduce runoff, erosion and nutrient loss are the key to mitigating/preventing land degradation and assuring long-term soil productivity.
This thesis investigated soil and water management techniques for Cabo-Verdean dryland farming systems to increase the efficiency of rainwater and crop yield, combining traditional and scientific knowledge in a field-based participatory approach. Field experiments were conducted in different agro-ecological zones of the Santiago Island aiming to evaluate the effects of water conservation techniques (mulching of crop residue, soil surfactant and pigeon-pea hedges) combined with organic amendments (compost and animal or green manure) on runoff, erosion, soil nutrients and crop yield. The PESERA-DESMICE modelling approach allowed assessing the biophysical and socio-economic benefits of the promising SLM techniques against a local baseline condition and their potential application at larger scale, under climate variability.
Following the general introduction (chapter 1), chapter 2 of the thesis reviews the national strategies towards building resilience against the harsh environmental conditions, analyses the state of land degradation and its drivers, surveys the existing SWC measures, and assesses their effectiveness against land degradation and in supporting people’s livelihoods. The analysis allows inferring that the relative success of Cabo Verde in tackling desertification and rural poverty is due to an integrated governance strategy that comprises awareness raising, institutional framework development, financial resource allocation, capacity building, and active participation of rural communities. The chapter provides a panoramic view of the importance of SWC measures for Cabo Verde drylands and recommends further specific, science-based assessment of the biophysical and socioeconomic impact of SLM and potential for upscaling.
Chapter 3, first, discusses the participatory approach used in selecting the SLM techniques that are field-tested in this research and, then, evaluates the effects of the selected water conservation techniques combined with organic amendments on the generation of runoff and soil loss from rain-fed agricultural fields compared with traditional farmers’ practices. The chapter also discusses the main factors influencing runoff and soil loss in semiarid dryland hilly areas, including the degree of soil cover, rainfall amount and erosivity, slope and soil infiltration rate. Runoff was significantly reduced only with the treatments containing mulch on slopes >10% and in the treatment containing surfactant and organic amendment on slopes <10%. Observed soil erosion rates were highest for the silty-clay-loam soil, followed by the sandy-loam soil and the loamy-soil, reaching a maximum value of 17 Mg ha-1 in the traditional practice, but were reduced by more than 50% with the SLM techniques. Residue mulch and pigeon-pea combined with an organic amendment (T3) almost eliminated runoff and erosion from agricultural fields even on steep slopes, contributing to improved use of rainwater at the plot level. The chapter recommends that SLM techniques, such as T3, be advocated and promoted for the semiarid hillsides of Cabo Verde prone to erosion to increase rainwater-use and to prevent further soil degradation.
As soil erosion, runoff and related nutrient losses constitute a high risk to soil fertility in Cabo Verde drylands, chapter 4 focuses on the effects of the techniques tested in chapter 3 on erosion and runoff related nutrient losses (NO3-N and PO4-P) and on crop productivity. The traditional system lost significantly higher amounts of both NO3-N and PO4-P than the tested SLM techniques, with the T3 technology reducing soil loss, runoff and nutrient losses to nearly a 100%. Nutrient losses from the amended plots were low, while the significant losses from the traditional system could result in long-term nutrient depletion in the soil. The treatments did not consistently increase crop yield or biomass in all three sites, but the combination of organic amendment with soil surfactant increased both crop yield and biomass in some cases. T3 was the best treatment for steep slope areas, although it is crucial to manage the pigeon-pea hedges to achieve higher maize yield. For flatter areas with deeper soils, the combination of organic amendment with soil surfactant could be a less expensive and effective choice. The chapter identifies and recommends SLM techniques to prevent nutrient depletion, improve dryland crop yield and avoid further land degradation due to erosion by water, both in steep slope areas and flatter areas.
Given the potential of the SLM techniques, but also significant spatial-temporal yield variability, chapter 5 considers the PESERA-DESMICE modelling approach to capture a greater range of climatic conditions and evaluate the biophysical and socio-economic benefits of the promising SLM technique (residue mulch combined with pigeon-pea hedges and an organic amendment - T3) against the traditional baseline practice of maize-bean intercropping (T0). It also evaluates the potential for upscaling the selected technique at Island scale. From stations in semi-arid and sub humid climates, long-term historic rainfall statistics allowed construction of 50-year rainfall realizations providing a unique time-series of rainfall scenarios and an envelope of the potential biomass production. T3 elevates yield under both sub-humid and semi-arid climates with greater security for sub-humid areas even though risk of crop failure still exists. The T3 technology offered good potential to increase yields by 20% in 42% of the area and reduce erosion by 8.6 Mg ha-1, but in terms of cost effectiveness, it might be prohibitively expensive for farmers lacking inputs. Such findings can inform policy options or influence adoption of conservation measures under the climatic variability of the Cabo Verde drylands and resilience to future climate change.
The thesis ends with a synthesis chapter (6) that presents the research findings, highlights the new contributions made to the current scientific debates on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) technologies for sub-Saharan Africa, sustainable intensification and land degradation neutrality. The T3 technology can be a promising CSA practice that could be widely used by smallholder farmers in semiarid regions to maintain food production and secure farmers’ livelihoods, while contributing to ecosystem services by storing water in the soil. The synthesis concludes with policy recommendations for optimizing soil and water management on hilly drylands to prevent further degradation.
Hence, the thesis presents options to support moving from degrading and low yielding land management practices towards more sustainable land intensification in hilly drylands that reduce runoff and soil loss, increase crop nutrient and crop productivity, ultimately, contributing to the mitigation/adaptation of climate change, food security and land degradation neutrality in Cabo Verde.