The project aims to exploit the agrobiodiversity and evaluate its effects on feeding the soil, livestock, and above all people at plant, plot and farm-to-landscape levels. The project will increase and optimize the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity as one way to achieve agroecological intensification of agro-sylvo-pastoral systems. The farmer-researcher co-design of innovative agroecological technologies will help to identify locally suited options for optimizing complementarity, beneficial effects between plant (crop and trees) and livestock components to feed people. The focus on sorghum-based systems and agroecological intensification (AEI) through biodiversity management fully corresponds to CCRP priorities. Sorghum can provide income for women through processing, food for the family, and feed for livestock. Regarding tree integration, the project will first focus on a recently developed agroforestry system based on a multipurpose native evergreen woody shrub (Piliostigma reticulatum) used as mulch for the cereal crops and then expanded to a wider range of parklands. Farmers and researchers will evaluate the biophysical and socio-economic aspects of the system, taking into account the multi-dimensional context of farming. Biodiversity will be managed to reduce the impact of pests and diseases, thereby improving crop yields in the target Soudano-Sahelian zone of Burkina Faso. The project will tackle two major biotic constraints in the zone–the parasitic weed “striga” and the sorghum-panicle-feeding insect “midge”- as entry points to study the influence of biodiversity as a pest control strategy. Tradeoffs associated with the use of biomass and diversity of plants (crops and trees) in the system will be considered for soil fertility improvement and for livestock feed. Farmers will be major stakeholders and beneficiaries of the project. Based on farmers’ knowledge and perceptions of their farming systems, a wide range of diversification options will be co-constructed and tailored to farmers’ technical and social context. All tested cropping and livestock options will be evaluated based on criteria in multiple domains by farmers and researchers during farmer field days and farmer feedback sessions. Modelling will be implemented at plant, plot, and farm to landscape levels to provide ex-ante assessment of alternative options.
At plant level, through crop screening and characterization of the crops (by farmers, on-station and through modelling exercises), the project will define relevant plant traits that favor intercropping, fodder quality, midge and striga resistance. Thanks to this information and an improved version of a crop model for ideotype study, breeding programs will ultimately derive improved sorghum and cowpea varieties for the targeted situation. Female and male farmers and development/extension agents will be able to make informed choices on varieties with high potential for intercropping and fodder use.
At plot level, the project will design tailored options that optimize the functional agro-biodiversity in these contexts. Intercropping systems that are resource use efficient and reducing striga and midge constraints will be identified, tested for multiple criteria and adapted according to farmers’ needs (including women’s demand for household nutrition and for income generation). Adapted modelling tools to assess resilience of these different agroecological intensification (AEI) options will be available and outputs of these simulations will be discussed with farmers. This should lead to farmers’ awareness on biodiversity-related ecosystem services, hence to the promotion of locally-suited options tailored to the demand and improved crop diversification and biomass production (for livestock feeding or soil restitution).
At farm to landscape level, decision and discussion support tools (based on trials and modelling findings), will be shared with local researchers and extension agents. Based on adapted modelling tools, the effects of options on various criteria in the different sustainability domains (agricultural productivity, income, food security and soil health) will be captured and will enable the evaluation of trade-offs in biomass use for better crop-livestock integration. This will lead to informed choice of options to feed the soil and the livestock to feed the household, and through scenario analysis to the development of policy brief. A typology of the parkland systems will be available to identify the main factors that deliver specific ecosystem services (pest control, soil restauration). This should ultimately lead to a better use of the agro-biodiversity at landscape level, preventing the outgrowth of major pest and diseases (i.e. midge and striga) and promoting sustainable use of the resource for the households.
In addition to these locally-suited outputs for the improvement of the livelihood of farmers (i.e. improved varieties, targeted management practices, recommendations for better biomass use), and the refinement of methodological approaches more targeted to the research community (i.e. improved models, technical fact sheets), the project aims to write scientific papers (at least 1 per level, and a few at the integration level). This will be achieved through training of local students from technician to PhD level. Another indirect output of our project will be the creation of farmers’ networks among the different study sites.