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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Soil fertilty management in smallholder farming systems in semi-arid Africa

Executive Summary
ResearchersDr. Frances Harris, CEESR, Kingston University
Funding Body/SourceDFID via NRSP programme, later work via CGIAR
Duration2 projects: 1992-1995; 1996-1999. CGIAR project from 1999-2002 approximately
Project SummaryInitial research focussed on determining nutrient balances for smallholder farming systems (Harris, 1998), and developed models of the nutrient dynamics of integrated and short-fallow farming systems. The research went on to consider how farmers use common property resources such as livestock manure, and how they can manipulate nutrient dynamics to maximise nutrient inputs to their fields (Harris, 1999).

Results from study sites in Nigeria, Niger and Mali, enable me to compare soil fertility management strategies in sites of contrasting characteristics: population density, rangeland availability, crop and livestock systems, and accessibility to markets. The results challenge conventional conceptions of agricultural development, in particular assumptions that agricultural intensification is not possible under low external input farming systems (Mortimore and Harris, 2005), and the effect of land use change on overall productivity of the land (Mortimore, Harris and Turner, 1999).

Herdsman with Fulani cattle in northern Nigeria.

Model of nutrient dynamics in a short-fallow farming system in northern Nigiera (Harris, 1999).

The effect of population density on agricultural intensification (Harris, 2006).


Mortimore, M., and Harris, F. 2005 Do small farmers' achievements contradict the nutrient depletion scenarios for Africa? Land Use Policy. 22, 43-56.

Harris, F. 2002. Management of Manure in Farming Systems in Semi-arid West Africa. Experimental Agriculture 38, 131-148.

Harris, F. and Yusuf, M. 2001 Manure management by smallholder farmers in the Kano close-settled zone, Nigeria. Experimental Agriculture 37, 319-332.

Harris, F. 2000. Socio-economic factors affecting soil fertility management strategies and the intensification of crop-livestock integration. A training manual for Improving crop-livestock systems in the dry savannas of West and Central Africa. Prepared for the System-Wide Livestock Programme, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Mortimore, M. Harris, F.M.A. and Turner, B. 1999 Implications of land use change for the production of plant biomass in densely populated Sahelo-Sudanian shrub-grasslands in north-east Nigeria. Global Ecology and Biogeography 8, 243-256.

Harris, F.M.A. 1999 Nutrient management strategies of small-holder farmers in a short-fallow farming system in north-east Nigeria. Geographical Journal 165 (3), 275-285.

Harris, F. 1998. Farm-level assessment of the nutrient balance in northern Nigeria. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 71, 201-214.

Harris, F. 1996. Intensification of agriculture in semi-arid areas: Lessons from the Kano close-settled zone, Nigeria. Gatekeeper Series no. SA59, International Institute for Environment and Development.

Further information/links

Nutrient budgets in relation to the sustainability of indigenous farming systems in northern Nigeria. Summary final report.

Nutrient cycling or soil mining? Final Report

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