Burkina Faso: Farmer uses fallen leaves as fertilizer

| December 22, 2014

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Pauline Tani Lankoandé smiles broadly at the sight of her ready-to-harvest crops. She is amazed to harvest so much sorghum, cowpea and groundnut from such degraded land. Still smiling, she says, “It’s hard to contain my happiness as I walk through my fields … My cowpea store is already full and I haven’t finished harvesting.”

Mrs. Tani Lankoandé has developed a routine over the past several days. She gets up early in the morning, walks to her field and fills her sacks with produce. But she struggled hard to arrive at this level of success.

Mrs. Tani Lankoandé lives in Sagadou, a village in eastern Burkina Faso. Low rainfall, degraded land and a changing climate make farming a precarious business in the village. For several years, her harvests shrank. She had no animals to provide manure and could not afford chemical fertilizers.

But Mrs. Tani Lankoandé did not give up. She recalls: “I was looking for ways to improve my soil fertility without spending money I don’t have. First, I tried retaining water with stone barricades, but the results were not good enough. Then I decided … to use fallen tree leaves as mulch. I can rake leaves from anywhere.”

Mrs. Tani Lankoandé noticed that her soil was more fertile where leaves had piled up after rain showers. So she raked up small piles across her field. She explains, “I add in some ashes to prevent termites from eating the dead leaves and to stop the wind from blowing them away. Then I wait for the first rains to help spread [the composted] material across the field before I plough, and then plant as normal.”

At first, people thought she was wasting her time. Her husband Paul says: “I remember that I was confused and pessimistic when my wife started this practice. But today I am more than proud of her. It has inspired many farmers in the area to do the same and the results are convincing.”

Fatimata Ouoba saw Mrs. Tani Lankoandé raking leaves during the dry season and piling them up. Ms. Ouoba says: “When the rainy season began, the field looked good and her crops were better than ours. So we followed her example, and we have no regrets. Far from it. Our harvest will be much better than in the past.”

Farmers were not the only ones impressed with Mrs. Tani Lankoandé’s success. Researchers at the National Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research, or INERA, studied the process. They concluded that her innovation improves the yield of degraded lands over the medium and long term.

George Zoumboudré is the Regional Director for INERA. He says: “This is an innovation, local knowledge that we will encourage and further investigate.”

Mrs. Tani Lankoandé’s discovery will be officially recognized during the West African Farmer Innovations Fair in Ouagadougou, in May 2015. She says, “This has changed my life for the better by improving my field’s performance. For this year and for years to come, my family is sure of enough to eat.”