Keywords: Innovation system, Soil fertility management, Land reform, Participatory technology development, Social change, Agroforestry, Land access rights, Fallow, Agricultural intensification, Africa
On the Adja plateau (West Benin), multiple actors are involved in an intercropping system with oil palm and food crops. This system is known as the oil palm-based cropping system (OPBCS). It contains two stages: a stage of small oil palms underneath which food crops are grown and a fallow stage with mature oil palm. Landowners grow oil palm mainly for the artisanal production of palm wine and sodabi, rather than for palm oil, for which the region is unsuitable for climatological reasons. The OPBCS has to be analysed not only from a technical and ecological perspective, but also from an institutional one. In the OPBCS there are competing claims between landowners and tenants for land use. Tenants access land under specific customary rules, grow food crops beneath oil palm and extend the cropping period by severely pruning palms because their right to grow food crops terminates when the palms reach a height of 2 m. Landowners claim that extended cropping reduces soil fertility and that long-duration oil palm fallows are necessary for soil fertility regeneration. Tenants state that long-duration fallow maintains land scarcity. In an attempt to remedy the competing claims, a land titling programme was implemented in some villages on the Adja plateau.
I analysed the system with a political ecology lens. I demonstrated the implications of the multiple institutions for land access and ownership, and therefore for the competing claims. Land titling initially created land insecurity for tenants, as they were thrown off the land by owners who wanted to demonstrate ownership. Subsequently, new rules related to land access by tenants were introduced. Both ownership and access by tenants relied on a different mix of formal and informal practices, as evidenced by formal contracts, petits papiers and a new paper contract. The new paper contract provides tenants the rights to rent the land for up to 25 years. The titling programme also enhanced on-going processes of intensification and commercialisation, as evidenced by increased use of mineral fertiliser and the regression of the OPBCS. The long-duration fallow periods did not improve biological and chemical soil fertility. Long-duration fallows are rather used as an expression of control over land. Mineral fertiliser and organic amendments (household waste) explain lack of effects of fallowing. Application of household waste and mineral fertiliser did not change soil organic matter content. Organic amendments increased maize yields more than mineral fertiliser. Household waste did not improve agronomic use efficiency of mineral fertiliser.
I suggest that formal and customary land tenure institutions can be blended to generate a hybrid system. Such a hybrid system might contribute to sustainable soil fertility management.
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