Cameroon: Cotton farmer adapts farming practices to counter soil infertility

| July 7, 2014

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Irema Badjouma stands in front of a pile of harvested white cotton bolls, bends down to pick up his cotton and carries it to a nearby storage area. Mr. Badjouma and other cotton farmers in the village of Yina have gathered their harvests and are waiting patiently for buyers to purchase their cotton.

The cotton season has just ended in Yina, a village in the Far North region of Cameroon. But cotton has not always been a successful crop here. The region shares its eastern border with Chad and is part of the Sahel, where the dry season lasts for three-quarters of the year.

Mr. Badjouma has grown cotton for 12 years on two hectares of land he inherited from his father. But four years ago, he harvested barely half a tonne per hectare. He says, “I do not know exactly what happened but the harvest began to decline to the point where […] I thought about giving up on [cotton].”

Amidou Bello is an agricultural extension agent from the local farmers’ organization. Mr. Badjouma asked the extensionist what crop he could grow instead of cotton. The farmer remembers: “He plied me with many questions about how I farm, my fertilizer program, which insecticides … After an hour, he encouraged me to continue cotton production, but to try different practices.”

Mr. Badjouma explains the changes he made to his farming practices. He says: “After I have harvested [the cotton bolls], I leave the [old] stems in the field. When I plant [the next crop], I put the seeds directly into the ground without having first tilled the soil as I used to.”

This technique is known as direct seeding through a cover crop. Mr. Bello explains, “Direct seeding through a cover crop is recommended for less fertile soils, and especially in semi-arid areas like this.”

The extension agent says that this technique is well-suited to the degraded soils of the Sahel. He adds, “The residues of the previous crop gradually decompose and become organic fertilizer. They also [help the soil] retain moisture even when it rains very little.” As time goes by, the soil regenerates without the need for chemical fertilizers.

Mr. Bello says the benefits of the technique usually increase over time. Growers should harvest about 10 per cent more in the second year of direct seeding, and yields can improve by as much as 20 per cent in subsequent years.

Mr. Badjouma started direct seeding three years ago. He says, “The first year, I saw no change. But since last year, I have seen an increase in my production. This encourages me to continue with this method.”

However, Mr. Badjouma is not yet convinced of the method’s benefits. He is withholding judgement at least until his harvest reaches previous levels. Last year, Mr. Badjouma harvested 1,200 kilograms. This year, he collected 1,400 kilograms. As he inspects his pile of cotton, Mr. Badjouma says, “It is still small, but it’s slightly bigger.”