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Farmers' perceptions as a driver of agricultural practices: Understanding soil fertility management practices in cocoa agroforestry systems in Cameroon

Kenfack Essougong U.P., Slingerland M., Mathe S., Vanhove W., Tata Ngome P.I., Boudes P., Giller K.E., Woittiez L.S., Leeuwis C.. 2020. Human Ecology, 48 : p. 709-720.

DOI: 10.1007/s10745-020-00190-0

In Africa, cocoa yields are low, partly due to soil fertility constraints and poor management. While peoples' knowledge, aspirations, and abilities are key factors explaining their behaviour, little is known about the rationales that underpin soil fertility management practices (SFMPs) of cocoa farmers. To address this gap, we conducted an exploratory survey in two contrasting regions in Cameroon where cocoa is an important crop: the humid forest and the forest-savannah transition zone. Some 30% of farmers in the transition zone as opposed to 13% in the humid forest expressed concerns about soil fertility. The most relevant soil fertility indicators for farmers were high cocoa yield, dark soil colour, ease of tillage, and floral composition. To enhance and maintain soil fertility, farmers used residues from weeding (100%), planting of trees (42%), mineral fertilisers (33%), compost (16%), and manure (13%). More farmers in the transition zone than the humid forest implemented SFMPs. Our findings suggest that soil fertility perceptions, access to inputs, local practices, and experience influence farmers' use of SFMPs. The limited use of mineral fertilisers was explained by poor access whereas the use of organic fertilisers and tree planting were mostly constrained by lack of labour and knowledge. Farmers prioritised practices to increase yield and viewed SFMPs to be the least important management practices, although they believe high cocoa yield is an important indicator of soil fertility. To foster sustainable cocoa intensification, it is necessary to enhance farmers' knowledge on SFMPs, increase access to inputs, and ensure returns on investment while considering farmers' priorities and practices.

Mots-clés : pratique agricole; systèmes agroforestiers; fertilité du sol; fertilisation; gestion du sol; theobroma cacao; participation des agriculteurs; approches participatives; enquête sur exploitations agricoles; engrais organique; cameroun

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