Fewer pesticides and higher yields and incomes

Posted by Josette Dunn on 24th December 2010

West African farmers have succeeded in cutting the use of toxic pesticides, increasing yields and incomes and diversifying farming systems as a result of an international project promoting sustainable farming practices.Around 100 000 farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal are participating in a community-driven training programme (West African Regional Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) Programme) executed by FAO.

Working in small groups, called Farmer Field Schools, smallholders are developing and adopting ‘good agricultural practices’ through learning-by-doing and hands-on field experiments.

To grow healthy crops, IPPM promotes soil improvement and alternatives to chemical pesticides such as the use of beneficial insects, adapted varieties, natural pesticides and cropping practices. Marketing and food safety issues are also part of the training programme.

“Trends in agriculture over the past decades in West Africa have seen an increasing use of highly toxic pesticides in higher-value, frequently irrigated crops. There is a general lack of knowledge in the region of the negative impacts of pesticides on the production, economy and health of communities and the environment,” said William Settle, FAO Senior Technical Officer.

“Simple experiments in the field, as practised by the Farmer Field Schools, have given smallholders the means to produce in a more environmentally friendly way, to substantially increase yields and earn a better income,” Settle added.

“Capacity building at community level is key to the sustainable intensification of food production, which will contribute to increased food security and improved livelihoods in the region, an important step towards achieving the first Millennium Development Goal, reducing hunger and poverty.”

Collectively searching for alternatives

Typically, a group of around 25 farmers coordinated by a trainer prepares two training plots in their village, one using local conventional farming methods and another plot using best practices appropriate to the crop and location based on IPPM, to observe and compare results from the two plots.

Over 2 000 trainers coming from dozens of local government, private sector and civil society organizations have been taught to support farmers in applying sustainable farming methods.

In Mali, a survey conducted in 65 villages of cotton farmers who were trained in 2007-08 showed a 94 percent reduction in the use of chemical pesticides and a 400 percent increase in the use of organic material like compost and manure, substances that can reverse the decline in soil fertility.

In Burkina Faso, IPPM helped increase yields from between 14 and 70 percent. Almost 16 000 cotton farmers have been trained in the project, and that number should double by the end of 2011.

Data from Senegal and Mali show 90 percent reductions in the use of chemical pesticides among farmers one to two years after training. In Senegal, farmers also shifted towards the use of botanical and biological pesticides. Farmers’ increased use of organic material such as compost and rice straw is one of the most striking results of the programme, FAO said.