In Benin, the agroecological transition in cotton growing areas is gaining momentum

Science at work 4 June 2024
Benin is the leading producer of cotton in Africa. The sector accounts for 30% of the country's exports and provides livelihoods for more than 300 000 households. But the downside is that the intensification of this crop is depleting soils, with two thirds of land in Benin now moderately or highly degraded. To restore healthy soils and ensure the sustainability of the cotton sector, the government of Benin is turning to agroecology. Some 10 000 farmers have already successfully tested agroecological innovations.
Cotton crops in rotation with cover crops (Benin) © P.-L. Yemadje, CIRAD
Cotton crops in rotation with cover crops (Benin) © P.-L. Yemadje, CIRAD

Cotton crops in rotation with cover crops (Benin) © P.-L. Yemadje, CIRAD

In 2017, the government of the Republic of Benin launched the TAZCO project (Agroecological transition in cotton growing areas), with funding from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD - French Development Agency). The results speak for themselves: cotton producers who have adopted agroecological practices have seen their yields double.

Currently in its second phase, the goal of TAZCO is the widespread adoption of these techniques. To this end, the project team has published a handbook summarising not only agricultural information, but also socio-organisational changes for an effective agroecological transition in the sector. This document, comprising fact sheets and methodological guides, is aimed at actors on the ground as well as NGOs, consultancy firms and state institutions involved in sustainable land management in the country's cotton growing areas.

Some 10 000 cotton producers have already tested the agroecological innovations developed by the TAZCO2 project”, says Pierrot Lionel Yemadje, an agronomist at CIRAD and an expert in the co-design of agroecological cropping systems. “The vast majority are very satisfied and wish to continue with the project activities. The support requested primarily concerns seeds for cover and fodder crops and sustainable mechanisation”. With regard to seeds, one of the challenges is ensuring the continuity of the system for seed multiplication and purchasing beyond the project duration.

A practical, evolving handbook

From 2017 to 2020, the first phase of the TAZCO project helped to restore soil fertility in 22 municipalities in the country's four cotton growing areas. In partnership with producers, agroecological practices and appropriate mechanisation were implemented in test plots. Yields increased and soil health improved.

In late 2020, an initial handbook compiled all the crop management sheets to detail the practices implemented and their results. Today, an update is proposed following the collaborative work between the Institut de Recherche sur le Coton (IRC - Cotton Research Institute), the Association Interprofessionnelle du Coton (AIC - Cotton Interprofessional Association) and CIRAD.

The goal is to disseminate as widely as possible the agricultural and socio-organisational innovations developed with the project partners in the sector. From 2020 to 2024, the second phase of the TAZCO project aims to accelerate the agroecological transition in the sector with adoption at the national level. The fact sheets, for example, will be translated into local languages and illustrated so that they can be given  directly to farmers.