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Women farmers double incomes and enhance household nutrition by reclaiming degraded land

The results were shared with the local communities in 172 villages in the district of Mayahi (Maradi region) and Kantche (Zinder region) in a series of meetings over the past few months.

The initial results of the impact evaluation conducted by the ICRISAT socio-economics team show that the BDL system had a positive effect on women by giving them access to land and increasing their income. The 0.02 hectare piece of land allocated to each woman in the BDL plot of 1 ha resulted in an average increase in the household income of women participants by 14,345 FCFA (US$26) which is approximately a 50% increase over non-BDL participants. This does not include income from the forestry component, which if added raised the average household income to US$100.

The BDL system has an agroforestry component that incorporates high-value trees and vegetables in a holistic system, with the aim of reversing damage to soils caused by overgrazing and intensive farming. It is a climate-smart technology that helps regenerate the landscape by improving soil fertility through carbon sequestration via tree roots and reducing soil erosion.

The technology developed by ICRISAT had two main components – water harvesting techniques and high-value nutritious trees and annual crops.

The water harvesting techniques included half-moons (demi-lunes) for trees, zaï pits for annual crops and trenches for leafy vegetables. Through these techniques rain water was stored to sustain crops in the cropping season and trees in the dry period. The system also used micro-dosing of fertilizer in the zaï holes to stimulate root growth of vegetable crops and promote better nutrient utilization. Examples of high-value trees and annual crops include drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera), pomme du sahel tree (Ziziphus mauritania), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), hibiscus and sicklepod (Senna obtusifolia) among others.

Women’s groups and individuals who produced indigenous vegetables using BDL improved their incomes as well as their household nutrition. For example, the level of Vitamin A in 100g of Moringa is four times that of carrots, its protein content is twice the protein of yogurt and it has four times the calcium of milk. Households were also able to take advantage of the benefits in the same cropping year and did not have to wait for several years for trees and crops to start producing.

For more information about ICRISAT work on agroforestry systems see

Did you know? A large share of arable land in the semi-arid tropics suffers from land degradation. Agroforestry contributes to preserve this fragile ecosystem while providing new resources for smallholder farmers.

Agroforestry, a sustainable agricultural system

Most dryland smallholder farmers rely on low productivity monocultures of low value staple crops. These cropping systems are unsustainable, causing land degradation, food insecurity and poverty.

Agroforestry is an integrated crop and tree farming system which can improve overall agricultural production per hectare, diversify production and nutrition, preserve the soil and increase incomes in marginal lands.

Trees with their deep root systems and their sun-protecting canopy are important to preserve soil and water resources in the semi-arid tropics, and could help annual crops grow better.

More than 50% of the West African Sahel land is degraded and not suitable for cultivation. In most cases the degraded land is composed of crusted lateritic soils impermeable to water. A combination of hardy rain-fed fruit trees and high value annual crops like vegetables, with water conservation techniques such as demi-lunes, zai and other sorts of planting pits, help women to improve food production and nutrition in waste lands. In general trees, a major component of the Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands, are much more resilient to droughts than annual crops.

Pigeonpea can be cultivated as a perennial plant and is used as a multipurpose species in agroforestry systems. This grain legume is thus planted in China to fight soil erosion in mountainous regions.

ICRISAT has developed a farmer generated natural regeneration approach which consists of actively managing and protecting indigenous non-planted trees. It is a low-cost and effective way to combat desertification in the Sahel, avoiding the adoption issues of large-scale tree nursery development of other replanting programmes.

Agroforestry has a role to play in helping smallholder farmers adapt to climate change.