Socioeconomic factors affecting the adoption potential of improved tree fallows in Africa
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In many parts of Africa, farmers periodically fallow their land, primarily to restore its fertility. This paper assesses the feasibility, profitability, and acceptability of improved tree fallows, which are the deliberate planting of trees or shrubs in rotation with crops to improve soil fertility. Improved tree fallows are assessed at different stages of intensification, drawing on farmers' experiences in 3 different settings. In extensive systems where land is plentiful and existing fallows with natural regeneration of vegetation restore soil fertility (southern Cameroon), farmers have little incentive to invest labour in establishing improved fallows. Where population density is higher and fallow periods are decreasing and farmers perceive a decline in soil fertility (eastern Zambia), improved fallows have great potential. In intensive systems where land is unavailable and cropping is often continuous (western Kenya), many farmers find it difficult to fallow land. Even here, there is scope for introducing improved fallows, especially among farmers who have off-farm income. Labour constraints and institutional support were found to greatly influence the feasibility of improved fallows. In intensive systems, low returns to cropping, low base yields, and a high opportunity cost of labour increase the returns to improved fallows. Principal factors associated with acceptability include past perception of soil fertility problems, past use of measures for improving soil fertility, current fallowing, economic importance of annual cropping, and wealth level. Adoption potential may be increased by reducing fallow periods, intercropping trees and crops during the first season, reducing establishment costs, producing higher value by-products, and by encouraging farmers to test improved fallows on high-value crops.