Africa, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs


Aly Ouattara and Michée Boko

KORHOGO, Northern Côte d'Ivoire, Sep 11 2007 (IPS) - When the failed coup of September 2002 led to a prolonged period of isolation for northern Côte d’Ivoire, farmers in this rebel-held region counted the cost.

As IPS reported earlier this year, government veterinary services in the north were curtailed, with dire results for livestock (see ‘COTE D’IVOIRE: A Shot in the Arm for the Northern Livestock Sector’). Those farmers cultivating crops, meanwhile, found themselves without the fertilizers needed for good yields.

The conflict also had another, somewhat more positive effect on northern agriculture, however: opening the eyes of certain crop farmers to the benefits of rotation farming with soya, a practice that enriches the soil.

“On the advice of my eldest son, an agriculture student, I planted soya for the first time in 2003, when the war was underway in Côte d’Ivoire and we could no longer get fertilizer for our usual crops, which are maize and yams,” Aminata Doumbia, a farmer from Odiénné in the north-west, told IPS.

She found that soya improved the quality of her land, setting the stage for good harvests of other crops planted the year after. Since then, Doumbia has alternated soya cultivation with farming different crops.

Korotoumou Traoré, a farmer at Ferkessedougou in the far north of Côte d’Ivoire, tells a similar tale.

“I cultivated soya for the first time between 2004 and 2005, at the time of the war in Côte d’Ivoire when there was no fertilizer. A friend who had already done so advised me to plant soya,” he told IPS. “It was then that I discovered soya could partially address the problem of lack of fertilizer.”

Yacouba Coulibaly, a cotton producer in Odiénné, has also alternated various crops with soya, improving his yields by more than ten percent in the process, he says: “I discovered that if one alternately farms soya and other food crops in the same soil, you can do without fertilizer. Soya beings something extra to soil, but I can’t explain or show…what this is due to.”

What remains a mystery to some in northern Côte d’Ivoire is common knowledge elsewhere, however.

Soya is one of the world’s legumes: plants known for producing seeds in pods – and for the symbiotic relationship they have with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that reside in nodules on their roots.

The bacteria are able to take nitrogen critical for plant growth from the atmosphere, and incorporate it into compounds such as ammonia (nitrogen is said to be in a “fixed” form when included in one of these compounds). This benefits not only the host legume, but also the surrounding soil – and plants grown on this land at a later date that do not live symbiotically with bacteria, such as the cereals which are a staple of the Ivorian diet.

“For many poor farmers, BNF (biological nitrogen fixation) is a viable, cost-effective alternative or complementary solution to industrially manufactured nitrogen fertilizers,” Eric Kueneman of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was quoted as saying in a press release issued after a 2001 FAO meeting on BNF.

“Most BNF technologies have the potential to generate global environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, protecting biodiversity and promoting more sustainable use of agricultural land.”

In a sense, the word of mouth about soya in northern Côte d’Ivoire amounts to a second debut for the crop in this region. The 1970s had already seen a programme concerning the plant, Project Soya, get underway at the initiative of the agriculture ministry – this to address protein deficiencies amongst Ivorians. Soya is widely viewed as being a very good source of protein, and is even said to be useful in fighting cancer.

Soya was experimented with in the western region of Touba, Odiénné in the north-west, and Dikodougou in the north, with about 2,000 hectares put under cultivation in each of these areas.

However, “This project unhappily failed, mainly because Ivorian communities saw soya as a food to which one turned only in times of hunger,” Namogo Tuo, former manager of Project Soya in Dikodougou, told IPS. As the West African country was not in dire straits concerning its food supply, soya did not gain popularity.

Eating habits also proved an obstacle. “Ivorian communities were not used to this type of food, and did not include it in their diet,” Tuo noted.

He believes there is scope for relaunching Project Soya, if not to address nutrition problems, then to help restore land in the north, centre and west that has since become depleted – and is succumbing to degradation.

Tiébena Soro, an agricultural engineer and specialist in legumes, would seem to agree. “If you want the subsistence farmer of the north to remain on his ground and not go in search of the more fertile lands of the south, you must teach him to preserve his land.”

Diversifying crops with soya – or other legumes such as beans or peanuts – is, he adds, “a basic solution that does not require many resources”. Soya grows in temperate and tropical conditions.

The events of 2002 led to civil conflict that split Côte d’Ivoire into a rebel-controlled north and government-held south. The rebel forces behind the failed coup accused government of marginalising northern communities, and residents of foreign descent.

Earlier this year (Mar. 4), a peace accord was signed in the Burkinabé capital of Ouagadougou, and rebel leader Guillaume Soro named prime minister of a power-sharing government.

President Laurent Gbagbo has spoken of elections being held before the end of 2007.

However, there are concerns about lack of progress with disarmament efforts, integration of rebels into the main army and the provision of nationality and voting documents to people in the north – issues that must be resolved if a free and fair poll is to be held.

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