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Chapter 5: Transforming Institutions on Agricultural Land --> Eliminating rural poverty and preparing outmigrants --> Increasing the value of smallholders' assets
Chapter 5: Transforming Institutions on Agricultural Land

<<--- Previous Section: Governance and the distribution of rural assets

--->> Next Section: How deep institutional structures impede research on the needs of poor smallholders

Increasing the value of smallholders' assets

Urbanization has been rapid over the past several decades, and in many countries, especially countries in Latin America, most rural residents have already migrated to the cities without physical or financial assets or human capital. At the same time, institutions have not evolved to include them in the development process. In Asia and Africa, however, most people still live in the countryside. And it is from these countries that a substantial part of the 2 to 2.5 billion increase in urban populations expected in developing countries by 2050 will occur. In these countries a strategy to enhance the range of assets to which rural people have access would simultaneously strike a blow against rural poverty, stimulate an inclusive orientation in institutional evolution, and prepare migrants to become good urban citizens.31

Water control is critical to ensure and minimize climatic risk-and to allow farmers to safely invest in increased production. Unlike Asia, where 30 to 35 percent of agricultural land is irrigated (producing two-thirds of the agricultural output), Africa irrigates only 1 to 5 percent of its agricultural land (depending on the classification of traditional water management).32 Without mechanisms to control risk, on-farm investment will be restricted to intensifying labor inputs. Farm and landscape-scale investments may be needed to enrich soil nutrients and organic matter, to protect fields from water and wind erosion, and to regenerate natural vegetation to provide local ecosystem services that also benefit agricultural production. Where investment can take the form of improving water control, and the water-retaining characteristics of the soil, climatic risk may be lowered considerably (box 5.4).

Box 5.4

Breaking out through zais and tassas - low-input traditional technologies

Since the early 1980s a technique for reclaiming degraded land has spread rapidly in Burkina Faso and Niger and was recently introduced into Ghana. This technique-called zai in Mossi and tassa in Hausa-originated in the Yatenga region of Burkina Faso. It involves digging holes that are 20-30 centimeters deep and filling them with crop residue, household compost, and manure.

Many lateritic soils of the area had become impermeable, sealed by a thin crust, hardened by wind and water. The zais attract termites, and their underground tunnels increase water infiltration. Millet is planted in the holes, which protect seedlings from wind damage. The number of zais per hectare varies from 12,000 to 25,000. Digging that hectare takes about 60 days (averaging five hours a day) in the dry season when work demands are low.

This technique has tripled yields and greatly reduced yield loss in dry years. On the central plateau of the Yatenga some 100,000 hectares have been restored, promoted by Projet Agro-Forestier (funded by the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief), and the German-funded Projet Agro-Ecologie. In many cases farmers spontaneously adopt the technique after seeing the results on others' fields.

The reaction of visiting Ghanaian farmers to what the Burkanabé had accomplished bears noting:
" We are very much blessed and yet we are complaining of our poor soils. A large proportion of our soils we have even discarded as 'dead' but, to our surprise, such soils are being used here [in Burkina Faso] to produce something even better than we are doing on our best soils."
The zai is a response by farmers to population and climatic stress. The Yatenga region of Burkina Faso has some of the highest population densities in the country. Earlier versions of the zai were used in the Yatenga prior to the 1950s, but on a much smaller scale. They were abandoned in the 1950s and the 1960s because rainfall was much above average and the water harvesting properties of the zai were not needed. Reemerging in the drought of the 1960s and 1970s, they began to be rapidly adopted following improvements in the techniques around 1980 by Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from the village of Gourga. The role of donors in dissemination, especially through field visits and farmer trials, has been critical.

Source: <Reij>, Scoones, and Toulmin (1996); Millar (1999); Meitzner and Price (1996); and IFAD (1999).

A broad-based attack to help African farmers break out of the vicious cycle of poverty will require increased investment on all fronts, including more attention to low-intensity agricultural techniques and genetically modified crop technology in areas remote from markets. And it will take major public investments in water control, transport, and technological advance aimed at staple food crops.33

In Africa improved agricultural institutions may depend on first strengthening asset value through water and transport infrastructure and fertilizer (box 5.5). Many countries will follow a two-pronged strategy-encouraging intensification and commercialization through purchased input-intensive agriculture in productive areas near urban markets and transport (and in more distant areas with dense rural populations) and low-external input agriculture in more remote areas. With the predominance of constrained soils, high production levels in Africa will require use of both inorganic fertilizers and inputs to maintain soil organic matter and structure. In peri-urban farming areas where high levels of fertilizer inputs (inorganic or organic) are used, water quality issues may become a concern (as they have become in intensive production areas of Asia and Europe), requiring use of filter strips and other waterway protections.

Box 5.5

Breaking out through fertilizer: the next green revolution?

During the 1960s the fundamental cause of declining per capita food production in Asia was the lack of short-statured, high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat. Asian food security was only effectively addressed with the advent of improved germ plasm. Then other key aspects that had previously been largely ineffective (enabling government policies, irrigation, seed production, fertilizer use, pest management, research and extension services) came into play in support of the spread of the new varieties. The need for soil fertility replenishment in Africa now is analogous to the need for the "Green Revolution-type" germ plasm in Asia three decades ago, a belief that is supported by two of the "fathers" of the Green Revolution: Norman Borlaugh and M.S. Swaminathan.

Source: Sanchez and others (2001).


soil fertility replenishment approach, developed over the past 10 years by researchers from the International Center for Research in Agroforestry has been adapted by tens of thousands of farm families in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This approach uses various combinations of fallow, phosphorus, and biomass transfers with consistently good results. A program to scale up these practices from tens of thousands to tens of millions of African farm families would cost $100 million a year for 10 years.34

<<--- Previous Section: Governance and the distribution of rural assets

--->> Next Section: How deep institutional structures impede research on the needs of poor smallholders

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