Seed Balls - Enhancing the Yield Effect in Pearl Millet and Sorghum and Disseminating the Technology in West Africa


Home to one of the harshest cropping environments in the world, the Sahel region of Africa hosts poor, sandy soils, low and erratic rainfall, and excessive soil surface temperatures. Sahelian farmers also often have limited space for cropping, very low incomes and restricted access to inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides. This combination of limitations makes it difficult for farmers to subsist on their cropping operations or produce enough to sell their crops for income.


Seed balls are a sowing technique for semi-arid areas, especially aimed at the improvement of plant establishment with dry sowing. By creating micro-environments that can capture moisture and make nutrients more readily available, the seed ball has the potential to support seedling emergence and stand establishment, even in the face of intermittent drought. Fabrication of the seed balls requires a combination of products that are easily accessible to subsistence farmers in the Sahel, including soil, wood ash, urine, organic matter, seeds and additives (e.g., nutrients, pesticides). They are a low-cost technology with low application risk for farmers, but with high potential for improved yields.


Award Amount

$717,854 (2013 - 2023)

Research Team

Ludger Herrmann              Charles Nwankwo
Hannatou Moussa              Hycenth Ndah
Mahamadou Hassane        Andrea Knierim
Joachim Müller                    Sebastian Romuli

U.S.A. collaborating institutions

Kansas State University

International collaborating institutions

Niger - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), Fédération des Unions de Producteurs de Maradi Gaskiya (FUMA Gaskiya, Gaskiya Federation of Maradi Farmers Unions), FAPAL (farmer organization), Féderation des Unions de Groupements Paysans du Niger (FUGPN Mooriben)
Germany - Universität Hohenheim

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ludger Herrmann

Universität Hohenheim
Institute of Soil Science and Land Evaluation, Soil Chemistry and Pedology
Stuttgart, Germany

Regional Impact

Niger – Aguié, Maradi
Senegal – Bambey

Project Description

Pearl millet farmers in Niger face many challenges related to crop production; one of which is seedling survival. Technologies that enhance seedling survival in the Sahel present the potential of an important contribution to reduce overall cropping risks in the region, thereby enhancing pearl millet productivity and yield stability.

This project builds on seed ball technology as a valid option to reduce cropping risks and improve farmers’ yields, particularly for female farmers, by using low-cost resources that are readily available. The project team continues to refine, develop, and disseminate the seed ball technology in Niger. The research component addresses application to sorghum and combination with other yield enhancing innovations (e.g., fertilizer-micro-dosing). The development aspect is focused on mechanization of the seed ball construction process. Dissemination is based on collaboration with farmer federations (Fuma Gaskiya, Mooriben) in Niger. The latter is accompanied by a research component that surveys adoption pre-requisites and constraints.

Progress and Impact

Seed ball technology for pearl millet has been transferred to sorghum. Field trials in this respect are on-going, especially in the Falwel region. A farmer exchange between farmers of the Mooriben, Falwel and Tera groups was organized and guided by experienced extensionists (Dr. Oumarou INRAN, Dr. Aminou, Fuma Gaskiya). The seed ball technology is tested in two other R4D projects (Women's field, CATI-GAO, and both are funded by the McKnight Foundation). An additional budget request was submitted to the SMIL steering group to allow the organization of a "National Seed Ball Conference" to introduce the technology to a wider group of stakeholders and actors.

The last greenhouse trial has started (seed ball effect under water stress). An additional greenhouse trial is planned on bio-fortification of seed balls. A last set of soil samples are under analysis to detect seed ball effect depending on soil properties. A concept on the economic evaluation of seed balls was developed by Kansas State University. An adoption study was conducted, interviewing about 480 farmers. The subsequent QAToCA-study is underway. Three scientific papers on the technology have been published and are accepted for publication. A scientific training was organized for 12 students from the Maradi region, applying the seed ball technology for their field of study. More information on this project can be found at

Country Coordinator

Dr. Moustapha Moussa

Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN)

Seed Ball Technology Improves Sahelian Pearl Millet and Sorghum Farming

The Sahel region of Africa is one of the harshest cropping environments in the world. Sahelian farmers have limited resources, income and access to inputs such as fertilizer and water. This makes the region ideal to introduce new technology advancements to help smallholder farmers with planting techniques to increase the pearl millet crop yield rate. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) at Kansas State University began a research project in 2013 to do just that. The research project, Seed Balls - Enhancing the Yield Effect in Pearl Millet and Sorghum and Disseminating the Technology in West Africa, developed seed ball technology to increase average yield by 30% to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs (especially women) and increase income for smallholder farmers.

Presentations and Publications

Seed balls - Enhancing the yield effect in pearl millet and sorghum and disseminating the technology in West Africa

Herrmann, L. & Nwanko, C.I. (March 2021). Seed balls - Enhancing the yield effect in pearl millet and sorghum and disseminating the technology in West Africa. Presentation at SMIL Administrative virtual meeting, Virtual

Mechanisation of Seed Ball Production in The Sahel

Jesser, A., Romuli, S., & Nwanko, C.I. (March 2021). Mechanisation of Seed Ball Production in The Sahel. Presentation at SMIL 2021 Annual Conference, Virtual.