Do small farmers’ achievements contradict the nutrient depletion scenarios for Africa?

Michael Mortimore, Frances Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The dominant narrative of soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa, as expressed in global surveys and policy documents, is compared with long-term data on the productive performance of smallholder farming systems under climatic and demographic stress. Cases at national, district and village/farm scale are considered (Nigeria; Diourbel Region, Senegal; Maradi Department, Niger; the Kano Close-Settled Zone, Nigeria). The dominant narrative is found to fail as a predictor of agricultural performance over the longer term. Instead there is evidence of farmers’ achievements in terms of sustained production, and investments in soil fertility maintenance. However at micro-scale, the constraints affecting farmers’ investments are apparent. The dominant narrative is deficient as a guide to policy, which needs to go beyond the fertiliser debate to take a broader view of soil fertility in relation to rural livelihoods and a need to facilitate private investment in natural resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-56
Number of pages14
JournalLand Use Policy
Issue number1
Early online date5 Mar 2004
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005


  • Africa
  • soil fertility
  • productivity
  • nutrient management
  • small farmers
  • degradation
  • long-term change


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