Cowpea and Sorghum

We funded projects boosting yields and incomes in West Africa through improved farming systems that use livestock and the strip-cropping of cowpea and sorghum to prevent the nutrient losses caused by the region’s traditional farming systems.

Cowpea and Sorghum

Rapidly increasing populations and pressure for food is driving an intensification of agriculture in West Africa, pushing farmers onto marginal lands and forcing them to farm when land should be left fallow. In the dry savannas of Nigeria and throughout Niger, where rainfall is scarce and soils have low levels of nutrients, most farmers cannot afford fertiliser or other inputs and their traditional system of intercropping cereals and legumes leads to high nutrient losses and declining crop yields.

From 2002-09 Gatsby funded the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to work on a project boosting the integration of livestock into the farming system in the region. Livestock enhances soil fertility through manure, increases incomes through the sale of milk and meat, and contributes to healthier, more balanced diets. The region’s traditional farming system does not produce enough fodder to support livestock, so IITA worked with farmers to evaluate alternative models. Together they identified a system of strip-cropping cowpea and sorghum on a 4:2 ratio ideally suited to local conditions. The system could support up to 10 sheep or goats for a year, producing one tonne of manure for recycling through the farm.

IITA disseminated the system through the region by introducing farmers to improved varieties of the crops, contracting seed companies and training farmers and extension staff on best practice for managing the crops and livestock. Participating farmers had incomes 300-500% higher than those employing the traditional system, and yields of sorghum and cowpea in the region increased threefold. More than 18,000 farmers in Nigeria and 800 in Niger directly participated in the project, while 200,000 farmers benefitted indirectly through the training of more than 1,900 extension staff plus farmer-to-farmer diffusion of improved seeds and crop-livestock systems.

IITA also helped form farmers’ groups so farmers could secure loans from five participating banks to pay for inputs. In 2007-08, 60 groups successfully applied for bank loans totalling more than US$100,000. IITA emphasised the formation of women’s groups, with 74 established in Nigeria – particularly notable given the conservative Islamic nature of the region.