Farming in Africa’s Sahel region is no easy task. It is an area characterised by degraded soils and irregular rainfall that is often subject to long periods of drought. For this reason, agricultural land is often very harsh, making it difficult to sow seeds and grow crops well. However, the introduction of the modern heavy excavator, the Delfino plough, is proving to be truly unprecedented.
As part of the Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought Delfinos to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut the affected bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a meter.
The Delfino plough creates large, crescent-shaped catchment basins ready for planting seeds and seedlings, increasing rainwater harvesting 10-fold and making the soil more permeable for planting than the traditional—and backbreaking—method. — digging by hand.
The crescent is a traditional method of planting in the Sahel that consists of making contours to stop the runoff of rainwater and improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This generates favourable microclimatic conditions that allow good growth of seeds and seedlings.
In addition, the Delfino plough is extremely efficient. A hundred farmers digging traditional crescent-shaped terraces by hand can do one hectare a day, but with a Delfino excavator hitched to a tractor, 15 to 20 hectares can be done in a day.
Once the area is ploughed, the seeds of native woody and herbaceous species are sown directly and the inoculated seedlings are planted. These species are highly resilient and perform well on degraded land, providing vegetative cover and improving the productivity of previously bare land.
By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers no longer have to clear forest land for farmland to meet the growing demand for food products. In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the territory is degraded and more than 9 million hectares of land previously used for agriculture is no longer usable. The degradation is projected to continue at a rate of 3,60,000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, there is a risk that the forests will be cut down to make way for productive agricultural land.
Africa is losing 4 million hectares of forest each year for this reason, despite having more than 700 million hectares of degraded land where restoration is feasible.
In Burkina Faso and Niger, thanks to the Delfino plough, the number of hectares designated for immediate restoration has already been reached and increased. Work is underway in Nigeria and Senegal to scale up the restoration of degraded land.