West African farmers have traditionally depended on leaving crop land to lie fallow for up to 50 years to restore depleted soil fertility. However, long fallow periods are no longer feasible as high population growth rates have led to agricultural intensification. Agricultural intensification has exerted increasing pressure on fragile, marginal lands and has also unfortunately been accompanied by farmers becoming overly dependent on cereal monocultures. Reliance on cereal monocultures creates a downward spiral in both human and soil nutrition and is usually associated with a marked increase in poverty and food insecurity.
Intercropping cereal crops with legumes offers farmers a viable means of improving soil fertility and family nutrition, while diversifying their sorghum and millet-based cropping systems. Legumes are able to access sparingly soluble soil. Phosphorus pools, biologically fix atmospheric nitrogen, and produce edible grains rich in protein and oils that help to improve human nutrition.
This project will attempt to enhance farmers’ interest in legumes, including cowpeas, groundnuts, Bambara groundnuts, pigeonpeas, and soybeans, by educating farmers about their nutritional benefits. It will subsequently engage interested farmers in participatory action research to identify well-adapted legume species and varieties, and to develop appropriate management systems for them. The project will also explicitly investigate the consequences of different intensities of legume use on soil and human nutrition, as well as cereal productivity.
There is growing evidence that soils can be improved through intensifying use of multipurpose legumes currently being grown for grain and fodder.
Knowledge is needed regarding which legumes species and management systems will improve soil nutrition within a realistic farming system of the Semi-Arid Tropics. Researchers must also determine which legumes are preferred by farmers and provide sufficient protein and oil to increase absorption of vitamins and a healthier diet.
A strong team, with a good mix of skills and experience, has been assembled to extend and adapt an approach to legume intensification that has been quite successful in Malawi.
The project is extremely complementary and has tried to create explicit linkages to some of the West African cereal projects being fund by the CCRP.
The project also advances local scientific capacity by including a Malian Ph.D. student from Michigan State University as a key participant.
Outputs and Outcomes:
Develop baseline information about current legume use in the target areas.
Educate farmers about legumes nutritional benefits.
Facilitate farmer participatory research to identify and select “best bet” legume varieties that are adoptable by farmers and adapted to different agroecosystems and farming system niches.
Investigate the role of legumes in enriching soil nitrogen and phosphorous pools for enhanced cereal nutrition and long-term productivity.
Document the role of adopted legumes in enhancing family nutrition.