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Publication Review: Identifying determinants, pressures and trade-offs of crop residue use in mixed smallholder farms in Sub-saharan Africa and Asia


Crop residue (CR) plays an important role in the livelihood of dryland farmers as it is an essential source of livestock feed, soil mulch, bio manure, construction materials and fuel. The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems gives substantial attention on how to optimize CR use in order to improve the productivity and sustainability of a farming system. However, in mixed crop-livestock systems CR have become a limited resource and their use is increasingly subjected to trade-offs and pressures. The recently published article “Identifying determinants, pressures and trade-offs of crop residue use in mixed smallholder farms in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia” provides an analysis of the determinants and trade-offs of CR allocation and examine the options that can help reduce pressures on CR.

The study is based on a trans-regional household-level survey in four regions across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Mixed crop-livestock systems in 12 different sites were selected and characterized for agro-ecological and socio-economic aspects. The sites were clustered in 5 groups with similar levels of agricultural intensity, represented as cereal intensity and livestock density. Moreover, determinants and pressures on CR allocation was described for each site analyzing the four major factors affecting CR use: CR supply focusing on cereals production, access to alternative biomass resources, demand for biomass, and farmers’ preferences for CR use.

The research study shows that CR are primarily used by farmers as livestock feed, but they also represent an important resource for fuel and constructions. In terms of soil amendment, CR are used for mulching only in few cases, for example in sites where better feed resources were available or where high crop production could more than satisfy the biomass demand. In general, pressures and trade-offs showed to be common in sites where crop production is not intensified, in particular during dry season and where other feed resources are scarce and access to alternative resources is limited. On the contrary, in sites with high cereal production most of the demand for CR was fulfilled, limiting pressures and trade-offs.  

The results suggest that to reduce pressures and trade-offs of CR use, an increase of agricultural production in mixed farming systems is needed. However, the authors stress the importance of following sustainable pathways to improve agricultural production and they recommend possible options.  A more efficient combination of crop-livestock activities for example, favors the use of synergies between the complementary roles of CR as well as other resources like manure and draft power.

In sites with low intensification potential, livestock production is suggested as a complementary development pathway that can enhance access to additional resources and reduce the pressures on CR use. Another way to dealing with pressure on CR is to enhance a better management of alternative resources like rangelands, which can help satisfy the demand for better quality biomass. In order to promote a sustainable agricultural development and enhance biomass availability and use, an enabling policy and institutional context is also crucial:

Coping with CR pressures and trade-offs needs to go beyond promoting technologies. […] Technologies need to be embedded within an enabling policy and institutional context including better information flow, capacity building and strengthening of markets. Thus, Research and Development (R&D) should not neglect the institutional context that underlies mixed farming production and technology demand, nor the diversity, dynamics and complexity of these mixed systems. This requires improved coordination among R&D actors, as well as enabling a real discussion and collaboration with the different stakeholders involved in agricultural production and marketing, particularly farmers.

The article provides a conceptual framework useful to better understand determinants and use of CR in mixed farming systems. The authors show how CR use is determined by levels of cereals production, access to alternative biomass resources, demand for biomass and farmers’ preferences for CR and how these factors are related to crop and livestock intensification. Through this analysis the authors emphasize the importance to tackle low agricultural production in smallholder mixed farming systems in order to overcome pressures and trade-offs of CR use. Moreover, possible solutions to relieve pressures and trade-offs are provided. To read the article click here.



The study reviewed in this blog was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The study was authored by Diego Valbuena, Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, Olaf Erenstein, Nils Teufel, Alan Duncan, Tahirou Abdoulaye, Braja Swain, Kindu Mekonnen, Ibro Germaine, Bruno Gérard.


About the author

Martina Antonucci is the Science Communications and Knowledge Management intern at the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.