By Ibro M Abdoulaye, Baco Mohamed Nasser, Badiori Ouatara, Sogodogo Diakalia, Mahaman Sabiou, Akponikpè PB Irenikatche, Derek Peak, Kimaro Anthony and Koala Saidou
Localized application of small quantities of fertilizer (micro-dosing), combined with improved planting pits for rainwater harvesting, have generated greater profits and food security for women farmers in the Sahel. Women are 25% more likely to use combined applications, and have expanded areas of food crops (cowpea, millet, sorghum) under micro-dosing and water harvesting. Farmers’ access to fertilizer has been improved by an innovative ‘warrantage’ credit scheme, that has enabled over 1,000 farmers (30% women), to purchase and use more fertilizer on food crops.
The Sahel region of West Africa is one of a small number of areas, globally, where food production per capita is decreasing. This particularly affects poor rural households, not only because of decreased income but also through a chronic shortage of cereals. For example, 2.5 million people in Niger needed food aid in 2005 due to severe drought (WFP, 2010). This situation recurred in 2010, when crop failure in the 2009 season led to the most severe famine in the country’s history. Frequent droughts and poor soil fertility are key factors behind food shortages.
But innovative, low-input technologies that simultaneously replenish soil nutrients and organic matter, as well as improving soil water availability, can lead to significant increases in crop production and reduce acute food shortages. In West Africa, however, recommended fertilizer application rates are costly and, as a result, are often only used for male-controlled cash crops, such as cotton and maize. Fertilizer use on food crops grown by women (e.g. cowpea) is much more limited, and often restricted to those who are able to access ‘spare’ fertilizer from their husband’s cotton production. Building on previous successes with micro- dosing, the Integrated Nutrients and Water Management (INuWaM) project for food security in the Sahel is testing the combined use of micro-dosing with soil moisture management, in order to determine any increase in fertilizer use efficiency. In particular the project is targeting food crops managed by poor rural men and women.
Fertilizer micro-dosing is the localized placement of small amounts of mineral fertilizer (4 grams of phosphorus) in the planting hole at sowing, or at the base of newly emerged plants, instead of spreading fertilizers evenly across the field. Use of improved planting pits (a rainwater harvesting technique that incorporates use of organic matter) instead of sowing seed in raised earth mounds encourages infiltration of rainwater and increases soil moisture levels.
- Increasing productivity for women - Results from three years of participatory research involving over 200 on-farm experiments with male and female farmers indicate that fertilizer micro-dosing, combined with use of planting pits, substantially improves productivity in rain-fed crops. In Burkina Faso, for example, yields of sorghum, where both methods were applied, were about 700 kg per hectare, compared with only 200 and 350 kg when rainwater harvesting and micro-dosing were used alone.
- Warrantage provides finance for fertilizer - Across four countries, the traditional, government-led fertilizer delivery system is currently being replaced by a multi- stakeholder system involving NGOs, agro- dealers, microfinance institutions and farmer organizations. Under this system, farmers are linked to both credit institutions and fertilizer suppliers, with their crop production serving as collateral for fertilizer purchases. Known in West Africa as ‘warrantage’, the system involves farmers storing part of their cereal or legume harvest in a warehouse. The value of the stored crop serves as collateral when applying for credit from microfinance institutions. Thus the system is adapted to the needs of small-scale farmers - particularly women - in providing affordable credit. In the project countries, about 20 microfinance institutions are engaged in the warrantage system with smallholder farmers.
- Women expand fertilizer use to food crops - The warrantage scheme has improved women’s access to fertilizers. As a result, women are allocating more land to micro-dosing than men with similar levels of assets across all four project countries, in order to boost production of food crops such as cowpea, sorghum and maize.