The last 50 years have seen a rapid expansion of cultivated area in semi-arid areas of West Africa. This has precipitated a change from traditional fallowing to more pro-active soil fertility management techniques. Smallholder farmers employ a range of technologies to enhance soil fertility and manure is a cornerstone of many of the soil fertility management strategies they use. This paper reviews manure management by smallholder farmers. It considers factors that affect the quality of the manure used, including methods for keeping livestock and storing manure. The paper reviews the strategies, such as night parking and crop-livestock integration, which farmers employ to ensure that manure reaches their fields. The nutrient balances of two farming systems are presented as evidence for the importance of manure as a nutrient source. Rangeland-to-cropland nutrient transfers are contrasted with nutrient recycling through crop-livestock integration. The paper concludes that within the constraints in which smallholder farmers operate in semi-arid West Africa, manure will remain an important component of soil fertility management strategies for the foreseeable future. Integrated nutrient management strategies that take into consideration the circumstances of farmers, and the resources available to them, are the best way forward. Appropriate interventions need to focus on improving manure management to ensure that the material which farmers so laboriously prepare and transport is of the best possible quality.
Experimental Agriculture (2002) 38 (2) 131-148