Smallholder farmers have access to the tools they need to consistently provide for their families and educate the next generation through im
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
We have selected Cobli as it has been severely impacted by climate change and has many key features that make it suitable. We have 7 years of experience in working in this region, and thus it is very familiar to us. We have also conducted several studies in the region and have knowledge on the production constraints, farmers’ preference criteria, ethnobotanical diversity, farmer’s perceptions on climate change and their impacts on certain crops, production, etc. It has been noted from our previous works that drought and heat are greatly impacting crop production in this region. Unfortunately, there is lack of high performing and adapted varieties for the major’s crops such as yam, maize, sorghum and pearl millet. So we are always working together with this community on the adaptive strategies used to mitigate climate impact on crops production through sensitizations on climate and best agronomic practices. But this is unfortunately not enough.
We have gotten to know several farmers in Cobli on a personal level, and feel deeply affected by their stories of lost income, and lack of food. We feel a strong connection to the region as the farmers in the region share a strong similarity with the way some members of our team grew up. The selection of this location as a place to demonstrate our vision is strengthed by the fact that the community are well organized and we have existing relationships with key members of the community having worked with them for many years.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
The province of Atacora is located in northwest of Benin and occupies a total land area of 20,499 km² (18% of the total land area of Benin) and located about 600 kilometers (km) northwest of Cotonou. It is bordered to the north by the Republic of Burkina Faso, and to the west by the Republic of Togo. The climate is tropical with a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from June to October. Average annual rainfall in this area varies between 400 and 700 mm per year (MAEP, 2019). The province of Atacora is subdivided into 9 districts of which our selected place (Cobli) is one. The main ethnic groups of Cobli are M'bermin and Gnindé. The people of Atacora province are rural communities and practice their traditional tribal religion (47.6%), Islam (7.9%), Catholicism (5.9%) and the remainder (17.5%) do non-practicing.
In the region, there is a savannah dotted with some shea and Parkia biglobosa trees. It becomes clearer when one moves to the West, except for the Pendjari reserve, the classified forests of the upper Alibori in Kérou and those of Kouandé which add nuance to this observation.
The area is mountainous with three types of soil in the Atacora province: ferruginous soils of the tropical type in places with a topsoil sufficient enough for annual crops; ferralitic type soils especially in the mountainous regions of Mater and Tanguiéta, light hydromorphic soils, located mainly in the peneplains or in the shallows. This variation in soils allows the cultivation of tubers and root plants (yams, cassava and sweet potatoes), cereals (maize, sorghum, millet, fonio) and legumes. In this part of the country, agriculture is the main activity and the source of community livelihood. However this community which is mostly rural suffers from food and financial insecurity because of the low productivity of crops due to climate change impacts (Dossou-Aminon et al. 2015) and the varieties grown due to the non-availability of improved varieties.
The people of Cobli hope for a better future, for consistent rainfall and high yielding crops, but if they continue in their current direction, this will not happen. Many in the district suffer from malnutrition as a result of the climate and variety performance issues they or their families experience.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
In 2020, small holder farmers in the region of North Western Benin are barely surviving. They are subsistence farmers and as such have no ability to make capital improvements to their farms. The region itself has mainly small holder farmers and the population is quite widely disbursed. Because of this, private seed companies have as yet not seen sufficient incentive to invest in the region and make available to the farmers any improved varieties of the major crops which include Maize, Cassava, Yams, and Sorghum.
Today, the impacts of Climate Change are being felt by farmers in this region and show no sign of letting up. The region is suffering from desertification, inconsistent or non-existent rainfall in some seasons, and increasing average temperatures. Consultative Group for Agriculture Research (CGIAR) centers do thankfully have improved varieties of the major crops of this region with key traits such as drought and heat tolerance, early flowering etc. available for free to researchers and seed companies. However the farmers in North Western Benin have no access to them.
These major crops also form a key part of the diet for the population of North Western Benin, in their subsistence farming systems, but the impacts of climate change are making it more difficult for families to receive the nutrition they need.
The nature of subsistence farming of course means that there is little or no access to credit. There are also no alternative financial mechanisms available to these farmers.
The farmers themselves do not understand the changes they are seeing and have seen. They look to the sky and question “Is god angry with us?”. Although the consistency of rainfall of changing, the longer term average in this region should be more than enough at 400-700mm per year. However a large amount is lost due to run-off, evaporation, and particularly in recent years, the inconsistency and lack of predictability meaning it is raining during harvest or when no crop is in the ground to benefit from it. Farmers have no water harvesting or storage facilities.
The Beninese government has little interest in the area. Their agricultural priority falls with the cotton producers whose product makes up 40% of GDP and 80% of export revenues in the country.
In 2050 the projects for climate change will potentially make this area completely unviable for farming unless something serious is done. The country will have to increasingly rely in expensive imported food from neighboring countries, which will be at prices out of reach to an average Beninese subsistence farmer. Technology will have moved to a point in agricultures continuous improvement cycle to a point where ideal varieties and management practices including fertilizer application and water usage will exist for this region – developed and tested in similar environments. But with the current access to credit and improved varieties for these farmers – in 2050 things will be dire for these farmers. With the region even more marginal than it was in 2020, the Beninese government will not see any viability in investment in the region.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
It is clear from the challenges that farmers in this region need:
Access to improved varieties, adapted to the changing climate of the region
Access to a reliable water source to enable yield stability from year to year
Our innovative, and scalable vision has the unique ability to address both of these challenges through its integrated nature.
Starting in one community of North West Benin, farmers will have access to appropriate water management systems and improved varieties of seeds. They will be able to pay for it themselves and as such will feel a strong sense of ownership for the solution.
Starting with a participatory approach involving both the leaders and marginalized members of the community, we will refine our concept and vision, which involves two key pillars.
First is a ‘pay it forward’ solution to distribute improved seeds within the region. We know that the improved varieties will immediately improve yields in the region, but the traditional field day – demonstration plot approach will not work because of the lack of seed distribution and sales infrastructure in the region. So from the quantity of seeds that we give to a farmer, they must then ‘pay it forward’ to a neighbor or friend at harvest time with a similar quantity to that which we gave them.
Second, we will install appropriately researched water management solutions, such as on farm storage or laser leveling on farms in the selected community. In order to ensure ownership and sustainability of our capital improvements to their farms, the farmers will pay for it, not in cash, but with an appropriate percentage of what they produce. With the higher yields the supplied improved varieties provide, this should be easily achievable for them.
We will then on-sell the products that the farmers repay us with, and with this money we have the ability to scale our water management solutions to other communities within the region. We also plan to keep a small percentage of the profit from the sales to contribute to capital improvements for the communities themselves, such as roads, medical facilities and schools. Between this and the ‘pay it forward’ component of our vision, we have a highly scalable and self-sustaining concept.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
With the biggest challenges to the region of North-West Benin addressed, its people will live far more comfortable lives. Their farms will be able to consistently produce high yielding crops each year. Water that was previously lost to run-off or evaporation will be able to be fully utilized in their farms. The farmers and their families therefore will be able to count on significantly improved financial security. Farming families should be well nourished year round with the ability to not only to provide for themselves, but also with the potential to improve their living situations, and even consider off-farm investments for event greater financial security. The non-farming families within the community, shop and other small business owners will also benefit through the increased business they can expect with farms having greater financial security.
The improved varieties can be expected to fetch a higher price on the market with aspects such as quality and size dictating as such – another contributor to financial security.
Through farmer to farmer education, it can also be expected that further investment in the form of water management systems may occur as the benefits of our interventions become apparent for those who were not initially selected to benefit from them. This should again generate money for the non-farming families of the community.
With the subsequent infrastructure investment in the community, children have the potential to benefit from improved education facilities, and improved healthcare. While potential for better market access at the potential to attract private sector investment is improved if the road infrastructure also improves.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Your Vision should:
- Explain how your Vision addresses the six interconnected themes: Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy.
Our vision sees the six interconnected themes of environment, diets, economics, culture, technology and policy all impacted upon.
As outlined in the 2020 and 2050 challenges, the major issue for this region is facing centers around the environment, and more specifically, the aspect of climate change and its impact upon small holder farmers in North-West Benin. With no access to credit, and very little private seed company presence or investment in the region, farmers are not able to improve water storage on their farms, nor are they able to access drought or heat tolerant varieties to plant in their dry fields.
Our vision is that in 2050, these farmers and the next generation of farmers will have consistent and ongoing access to varieties of crops that are adapted to the challenges of the region. The varieties will be drought and heat tolerant, as well as resistant to the prominent pests and diseases that occur in that region. In addition to the varieties ideally suited to the region, the farmers will have a sufficient level of water security on their farms which enables them to enjoy cropping their land year round, rotating their crops to ensure soil health is maintained.
With the issues of financial security impacted by their improved cropping system, farmers and their families will be able to improve their diets. Many new crop varieties, such as those produced in the under the Harvest Plus project (https://www.harvestplus.org/) are biofortified with vital vitamins and minerals, essential for a balanced diet. Our project will focus on these as a priority for this region. In addition, the improved financial security for these farmers will enable them to purchase food items, sources of protein and vital vitamins and minerals that they ordinarily would not be able to afford. This purchasing power will also impact upon the community as a whole, as small business and shop owners will experience an increase in demand, and can in turn improve their own livelihoods and therefore diet, purchasing from the market the biofortified produce that the local farmers sell.
Economically speaking, and as already outlined with the impact upon diet, the community will certainly be in much better shape than it is now in 2020. The extra income generated by the farms will flow back into the community and its local businesses and shops. This extra income is expected to result in capital investments within the community such as the purchase of more land by both farmers and business owners; more opportunities for work for youth, women and other members of the community including farm labor and other small business employment possibilities; other capital investments such as the mechanization of farms; and entrepreneurship opportunities such as machinery rental, seed and produce trading, and other farm input sales businesses.
Culturally speaking we expect that a byproduct of our vision will be an increased awareness for the impacts of climate change. Through this, both farming and non-farming families could be expected to be more aware of how their actions impact upon their environment, and the climate in general, thus adopting a more climate friendly approach to their daily lives.
The introduction of new varieties and water management solutions is the clear technology introduction component of our vision. Our new varieties are as described above. From a water management perspective, the solution needs to be tailored to the particular environmental conditions of the location. For example, for some farms, the possibility of drilling a bore to access underground water and installing a windmill to access it may have strong potential. For others, this solution may be not as viable due to the depth of underground water, or the very hard rock formations under the soil, which make the cost prohibitive. In such cases, a better approach may be to consider on farm water capture, utilizing the existing gradient in the soil, or combining this with laser leveling in other parts of a farm to ensure even distribution of water. Overall, our vision is for tailored water management suiting each case and providing resilience against rainfall fluctuations for farmers.
From a policy perspective, in the current situation in Benin, none of the crops we will focus on in this vision are currently exported from Benin, the majority are subsistence only or are sold in local markets. With the increased production, opportunity for export may arise, but this will require government (policy) support. We expect that by 2050 the dramatically increased prosperity in the region will be noted by the Government of Benin to the extent that they see the benefit of investing in infrastructure to facilitate the export of goods from the region. We, in fact, have a secondary vision around producing 100% traceable produce from the region (from farmer to consumer) via QR codes that we would look to implement once the primary vision is running well. Currently this is done for some vegetables and meats in some markets, but not that we are aware of for our crops – a process that would add further value to the produce from the region.
Furthermore, we expect that by 2050, with the success of our vision, coupled with the global movement to combat climate change, that the Government of Benin is motivated to change laws and policies in support of climate friendly initiative, such as those around transportation, land clearing, and sustainable agriculture.
- Be informed by the People engaged with the food and agriculture in your Place
We have done extensive consultation with both members of the community and other individuals involved in agriculture and agriculture research within Benin. These individuals have informed our vision in its level of ambition, crop varieties to focus upon, the willingness of farmers to participate in such a process, and the potential water management solutions and their associated costs. They informed us that our vision was quite inspiring and had great potential to make real lasting impact in the region, providing we had the financial support to do so. They informed us that a focus on Maize, Cassava, Yams, and Sorghum will cover the major crops grown in the region. We discovered that farmers would be more than willing to participate in both the ‘pay it forward’ and the water infrastructure produce repayment components of our project. We also know that a similar, although differently structured and focused project to the pay it forward component was successful with CIMMYT in Ethiopia https://www.cimmyt.org/news/ethiopia-calls-for-continued-collaboration-to-increase-wheat-production-and-meet-nutritional-and-food-security/
While academic studies have shown that farmers are indeed willing to pay for capital improvements on their farms, particularly water infrastructure, assuming they have the means to do so.
For example: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378377416302955
- Address the Challenges facing the Food System you’ve selected
- Align with the Evaluation Criteria (Systems Focused Approach, Transformative Potential, Community Rooted, Inspirational)
Overall our vision is presenting a system based process and network innovation for the farmers of North Western Benin. Our vision will inspire the farmers to not only help themselves combat the impacts of climate change, but also give them the tools to help others, and to help their community as a whole. Our vision is empowering a community of people and is rapidly, and widely scalable, not only to other communities in North Western Benin, but also to other regions in the country, other countries in the region, and even other developing countries. In fact a friend from Afghanistan has also expressed interest in developing the vision in his region also.
All members in the community have the potential to benefit from this solution, either directly or indirectly, and the community is expected to take ownership of both the structure of the vision, its results and its ongoing scalability.