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Benin
 
 

Benin, the small neighbour of the giant Nigeria, benefits from political stability yet poverty and malnutrition is high. Agriculture plays a big role in Benin's economy but is too reliant on the cotton sector and small farms have very low productivity. In the Northern drier part of the country, dryland cereals are major food crops. Along with groundnut, sorghum and millet research, ICRISAT works with Beninese researchers to promote more sustainable farming practices for better yields and environmental outcomes. 

32% - Share of Benin's agriculture in national GDP

47.3% - Share of Benin's population living below the poverty line

25 - 40% - The share of cotton in Benin’s registered exports 

+300 kg/ha - Yield gain observed by some Beninese cotton farmers while applying following sustainable pest control 

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General context

Benin is a small country in West Africa bordering Nigeria, Niger, Togo and Burkina Faso, with strong democratic institutions but also widespread poverty and malnutrition. Almost half of the 10 million people live below the poverty line and 21% of children under five are underweight. The economy is not diversified, quite dependant on Nigeria and vulnerable to external shocks such as climate hazards and cotton price volatility.

 Indeed, agriculture accounts for about 32% of GDP and is the source of livelihood for nearly 70% of the country's workforce. Cotton, almost the only cash crop, is the primary export commodity accounting for about 25-40% of total official exports. Heavy use of pesticides has had a health impact on farmers and unsustainable monocropping has led to land degradation.

 Agriculture in Benin is very diverse, as the climate becomes drier from the Southern tropical rainforest zone to the Northern savannah-desert regions. Half the population lives in humid South Benin which represents only 10% of the territory. In Northern Benin, on the boundary of the Sudanian and Sahelian Zone, where the dry season lasts more than six months, the agriculture sector is dominated by cotton and livestock. The most important food crops in this region are yam, cassava, maize, sorghum, millet and beans. 

Improving agricultural productivity of smallholder farms is key to Benin's development (ref: Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (2011-2015). Benin could take greater advantage of its geographic position in serving the booming Nigerian market and its role as a gateway to landlocked countries to its north. 

ICRISAT research in Benin

ICRISAT has collaborated for years with Benin agricultural research institutions (in particular Institut National de Recherches Agricoles du Benin INRAB) in groundnutsorghum and millet crop research, three important staple crops in Benin's semi-arid regions.

Research aims at scaling up the use of improved seeds, better pest and soil fertility management, water conservation practices as well as more efficient postharvest operations to improve Benin's food security (ref: EU Food facility programme).

Promoting agroecological and more sustainable farming practices is important to help restore soil fertility. Targeted cotton pest control, for instance imply monitoring pest attacks for targeted application of pesticides. It helps reduce the use of pesticides as well as leads to gains in yield (up to 300 kg/ha) and grain quality. Yet adoption is low (about 10% of cotton area). A recent study helps understand the drivers of adoption of such a farming practice, including the role of social capital (eg, institutionalisation of the practice within a farmer’s group) to weigh against constraints such as labour time in pest monitoring or difficult supply of specific pesticides.

Water scarcity is a major farming constraint in Benin as for other parts of the Sahel. Most farmers practice rainfed agriculture. Appropriate micro-irrigation technologies can enable Beninese farmers grow vegetables in a semi-arid environment and improve their livelihoods. ICRISAT has worked with NGOs to scale up solar-powered drip systems for vegetable cultivation, an expansion of the African Market Garden (ref: Stanford University).   

Recent research in the area of integrated water and nutrient management is testing different combinations of fertilizer microdosing and conservation practices (eg, honeycomb tilling) in Boukombe, one of the most vulnerable districts in Atacora region, North Benin.

Photo: ICRISAT
Cotton is the main cash crop for many Beninese farmers. Heavy pesticide use has led to environmental and health hazards. Promoting more sustainable farming practices is key.
Photo: ICRISAT
ICRISAT is working with NGOs to promote affordable and sustainable drip irrigation for better incomes for farmers.
Photo: ICRISAT
In the microdosing trial in Nagreongo (2007), millet yields were 30% higher than the fertilizer recommended dose. (ref: IDRC project
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