Key Findings From Drylands Research's Four Country Studies In Kenya, Senegal, Niger And Nigeria

• Rainfall variability fundamentally affects inter-year fluctuations in output, risk and livelihood choices in dryland environments

• Bioproductive potential is primarily constrained by climatic seasonality, low rainfall, and poor soils. In the Sahel, there was a prolonged decline of rainfall, c.1965-85. Since 1985 there has been an improvement, but not to earlier levels, and variability remains high

• Conventional wisdom on desertification (environmental degradation) is not always compatible with local data, often fails to separate its human and natural causes, may underestimate the capabilities of local resource managers, and thereby can lead to inappropriate policies

• In Kenya, Niger and Nigeria, smallholders have maintained or improved the value of their output against increasing rural population, declining and variable rainfall, and economic surprises

• Strong responses to market signals have led to the adoption or increased popularity of food crops and livestock fattening, in response to growing demand for food generated by urbanization. Senegal demonstrates this in respect of livestock, but not for cereals, as policy there has created a long-standing preference for imported rice

• Profitability has been more important than credit in inducing investment and the uptake of new technologies

• Sustainable natural resource management is not necessarily beyond the reach of poor smallholders, given farmers' goals of owning and integrating livestock and passing on good land to their heirs

• The maintenance of soil fertility is a problem for farmers. Many can only afford to fertilise a part of their holding with manuring or chemical fertilisers. Reduced subsidies have reduced demand for chemical fertilisers, owing to unfavourable input-output price relationships. However, some would buy more if it was available at the right time, in the right quality, and unadulterated.

• In Kenya, livestock holdings are at risk from disease, but elsewhere, livestock numbers are increasing and playing a key role both in generating income, and in providing manure for crops. Stall-feeding, the use of crop residues and purchased inputs compensate for reduced grazing areas.

• A major transformation of landscapes has occurred as agricultural occupation of open or common lands approaches its conclusion in cultivable areas. This transformation has been the result of substantial small but cumulatively large investments in the creation, stocking and equipment of farms

• As land rather than labour becomes the limiting factor in natural resource management, farming systems have become more labour- and capital intensive or begun a transition. In some areas, labour is also becoming in short supply due to the attraction of urban labour markets

• As capital needs for farming increase, some farmers inheriting very small farms or with below average management capacity are selling land and moving to alternative occupations. Few can now move to a new farming area so the current requirement is for the development of new occupations in towns and villages

• Customary land tenure systems have proved able to adapt to increasing scarcity and value of land, while state interventions to change the legal basis of land-holding have had a mixed record, and do not necessarily increase security for investments

• Knowledge is vigorously accessed by rural people through formal or informal education, travel, experimentation and government services, but the content of primary education is valued less in the two francophone countries than in Kenya

• The family plays a critical role in mobilising resources for investment in the farm, in education, or off-farm. Family exploitation of regional or international labour markets finances investments in human and physical (farm) capital as well as consumption

• Critical inter-country differences in the trajectories of economic and environmental change and of livelihood construction result from macro-economic policy orientations and swings. Inflation and poor management of exchange rates have impacted on agricultural prices and profitability

• Positive long-term trends in natural resource management and in micro-investment in the past provide no guarantee of continuity in the future; an enabling policy environment is the key, and works better than strong top-down direction (as attempted in Senegal until the system began collapsing in the 1980s). The future need is for policies that complement the capacities and resources of the farmer

To read research implications and policy dialogues, select: Research Implications and Policy Dialogues
To access recently published papers, select: Published Articles

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