Strengthening resilient livelihoods to reduce poverty in West Africa’s semi-arid areas
Despite the success of research and development activities in integrating crop and livestock production, few West African communities are adopting these technologies. The challenge in promoting a mixed dairy and market garden farming system is integrating improvements to technologies, water management and conservation with changes needed at the social, market, institutional, and policy levels.
To address this problem, the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development, in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute, and national agricultural research institutions in Mali, Niger, and Togo, launched a four-year action research project in 2009. Its goal: to strengthen the resilience of Sahelian households and communities in West Africa.
Mixed approach promotes resilience
The project team promoted mixed dairy and market gardening to increase smallholder farmers’ income, improve food security, and make households more resilient. Researchers identified new options that improve the value chain in local dairy and vegetable products. They included:
- low-cost irrigation systems to improve water management and vegetable production in the dry season
- techniques for mixed cropping and irrigation of forage crops and vegetables
- cross-breeding and cattle feeding techniques to increase milk production, especially in the dry season
- animal manure and household waste composting for use on vegetable farms
- improved technologies for producing and storing local cheeses.
Better livelihoods empower communities
To improve market access for West African communities, the partners focused on:
- reducing the transportation costs of dairy and vegetable products,
- establishing contracts between milk producers, collectors and transporters,
- providing veterinary services to safeguard the local dairy value chain.
More than 400 producers and other actors in the value chain were trained in mixed crop-livestock techniques. The project has had a positive impact on all of West Africa but especially in Mali, Niger, and Togo. Livelihoods of the target population have improved and changes have trickled down to villages near the project sites.
In concrete terms:
- Communities have easy access to dairy products and vegetables,
- new crop varieties and low-cost irrigation have improved yields and incomes.
- local networks and dispute settlement mechanisms have reduced conflicts between farmers and herders.
- strategic options now inform decision-making in favor of small dairy and vegetable farmers
- households saves money spent on chemical fertilizer by using composted cattle manure and household waste.
- farmers now have easy access to micro-credit and agricultural inputs