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Improving farmers’ productivity and incomes year-round

Climate-smart solutions

Field report from Benin

Over the last 5 years, Beninese farming communities have been benefitting from innovations in climate-smart agriculture, including new farming practices, diversification of income sources and the introduction of short-cycle crops.

In the lakeside village of Sô-Ava, about 20 km northeast of Cotonou, Cécile Zannou has just finished sorting 3,000 fry (young fish) to be marketed. Since she began adopting climate-smart farming practices, this family fry production and marketing business has become one of her key income sources, enabling her to feed her five children and pay their school fees. She has been able to achieve this progress through support from the Combating Adverse Effects of Climate Change on Agricultural Production and Food Security in Benin (PANA-1) project.

Between 2011 and 2016, the €9.27 million United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded PANA-1 project was geared towards strengthening the capacity of farming communities to adapt to climate change. “This involves training beneficiaries, while also introducing new practices to enhance their climate change adaptation capacity,” says Daniel Loconon, national PANA-1 coordinator. The project focused on nine Beninese communities – Adjouhoun, Aplahoué, Bopa, Malanville, Matéri, Ouaké, Ouinhi, Savalou and Sô-Ava – in four vulnerable agroecological areas.

PANA-1 teams have trained farmers in the selected communities on taking weather reports into account, introducing new crops grown from improved seed, fish farming and other activities to diversify their income sources. “Training is the key contribution of PANA-1. We farmers depend on the land and need training to continue reaping its benefits, otherwise whole families will be endangered,” says Moïse Sounouvou, another PANA-1 beneficiary. Sounouvou and Zannou are among the 2,200 direct beneficiaries of PANA-1, which has also indirectly benefitted a further 12,500 family members, customers and community members.

“I used to grow maize, vegetables and okra, which are seasonal crops, so my income dropped sharply in the off season,” says Zannou. However, along with 20 other women in her community, Zannou was trained in fry production, care and rearing. She now produces 3,000-5,000 fry a month, thus doubling her monthly income.

Women account for 30% of PANA-1’s direct beneficiaries. Some of them, such as Léontine Tohou, have formed cooperatives. In Damè, a village in the municipality of Savalou, the project installed a weather station, which enabled farmers to adapt their agricultural calendar to be more weather-smart, and introduced improved seeds and training in sustainable land management practices, resulting in improved crop productivity, reduced soil erosion, and greater water-use efficiency.

“Controlling production with planting of short-cycle maize, sorghum and rice seed, is essential for adapting the cropping calendar to the irregular rainfall conditions,” says Loconon. It takes 75 days to grow and harvest these improved cereal crops, compared to the 120 days women had to wait to harvest the seed they were using before. In just 5 years, this shortening of the crop ripening time has doubled harvests to almost 4 t/ha. As Tohou explains, “We can now harvest twice a year as a result of the weather information, training, equipment and improved seeds we have received. We can grow food all year round. Our harvests are better, which means I can sell more of my produce and make three times as much money.” With this increased income, Tohou is now building a new house and can afford to send her children to school.

PANA-2, a 5 year project launched in 2016, is more specifically focused on energy transition and renewable energy training. UNDP expert, Benjamin Larroquette, explains, “Essential work is under way with the Benin government, in collaboration with UNDP, to improve and update national climate change adaptation plans, whereby government authorities are being trained on incorporating adaptation strategies in development planning and funding plans.”

Government funding support is needed to ensure the sustainability of PANA-1 and PANA-2 activities and achievements, but this is slow in coming. “The PANA-1 project has leveraged US$11 million from partners, but the government has not yet earmarked funds to ensure its sustainability,” states Loconon. “We need funds to be able to continue, otherwise this initiative will likely have very little long-term impact,” adds Sounouvou. But Larroquette is optimistic about the future impacts of PANA-1, “The project will have a sustainable long-term impact on the way agriculture is practiced. The transferred knowledge and installed infrastructure will continue generating benefits for the communities in the coming years.”

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