Farmers' perceptions and management of soil organic matter: A case study from West Africa
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A farm survey was carried out in 155 Ghanaian villages covering parts of the forest and savanna zones of West Africa to assess farmers' views on `soil organic matter' (SOM) and its management. The results of a closed questionnaire accompanied by open discussions showed that most farmers are well aware of SOM and its importance for crop yields. In southern Ghana, farmers perceive SOM generally by its colour, while in northern Ghana, it is mostly assessed by the density and kind of vegetation. Farmers' perception of the properties of SOM was directed at its main functions as a primary provider of plant nutrients and its ability to conserve water. Other properties mentioned were the improvement of soil aeration and drainage, the loosening of soil structure as well as its impact on soil temperature. The major strategies farmers used in maintaining or augmenting SOM levels were: manure application, mulching with crop residues, slashing weeds without burning, composting, and shifting cultivation (natural fallow). Promoted technologies, such as green manuring, no tillage, or agroforestry were used only by a few of the farmers interviewed. The differences between farmers' views and strategies in the two zones as well as farmers' constraints in SOM management are discussed. It appears that the level of farmers' commitment to excellent soil management can vary with biophysical as well as socio-economic conditions.