SEATTLE — Sustainable agriculture in Benin has become increasingly challenging for many of the country’s farmers. Northern Benin in particular is vulnerable to floods, erratic rainfall patterns and droughts. Many Beninese farmers have emigrated to other African countries as a result. However, efforts are being made to improve Beninese agricultural yields.
Many of Benin’s women farmers are part of an organization called the Mialebouni Association that specializes in cassava farming. In 2012, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) gave Mialebouni a $150,000 capacity-building grant, followed by a $240,000 enterprise expansion grant in 2016. Mialebouni used the funds to purchase mobile processing stations designed to meet its members’ needs, reduce their hardships and increase profits. The mobile grinders and presses are transported by bicycle to provide processing services in several villages.
Mialebouni’s members are now able to travel shorter distances to process their harvests and provide more food for their families. This especially helps the 45 percent of children in Benin suffering from chronic malnutrition. USADF and Benin’s government invested more than $5 million in food security and economic development, doubling the annual quantity of cassava production and supporting more than 27,000 farmers.
In July 2017, 14,000 farmers in central and northern Benin had achieved significant yield increases for maize and legume crops. The farmers now provide more food for their families and incomes higher than they could have imagined years ago. One of the farmers, Leonard Djegui, praises science for allowing his maize and soya to grow taller, providing him with a richer harvest.
Using isotopic techniques to measure and increase the crops’ amount of nitrogen has been the main reason for Benin’s increased yields. Pascal Houngnandan, the vice president of the National University of Agriculture, adds that legumes such as peanuts and soybeans can take nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. This makes the soil more fertile for the maize crop that Benin farmers plant the following season.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is providing expert advice to the farmers, helping Houngnandan and his team interpret the data. The IAEA has also provided necessary equipment and training that allows the researchers to conduct the experiments and produce the bacteria required for the legumes to take more nitrogen from the air. Many of Benin’s 100,000 soy farmers are seeing their yields triple and even quadruple from the new isotopic techniques.
Creating possibilities for sustainable agriculture in Benin has become a priority for other countries as well. In August 2017, Chinese farming experts began a 10-year training program for Benin’s farmers, gardeners, poultry producers and technical supervision officials. Wang Rui, representing the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, says the training will teach Benin’s farmers how to employ Chinese farming techniques, particularly in maize production and vegetable cultivation.
Wang adds that Benin’s rain-fed agriculture needs irrigation techniques that can help it survive climate changes. Additionally, the shared Chinese farming techniques could help Benin’s farmers increase revenue and enhance agricultural yields. “Chinese agricultural technologies have been experimented with maize and vegetable cultivation so far in Benin and enabled the increase of maize productivity from one to over 5 tons per hectare,” says Leopold Biaou of Benin’s Ministry of Agriculture.
The Mialebouni Association, China’s agricultural training and new isotopic techniques will continue growing the development of sustainable agriculture in Benin. If these projects continue to prove successful, farmers could return to Benin and find more agricultural opportunities. For now, improving Benin’s agricultural sector is a work in progress and will continue to attract the aid of other entities.
– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar