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.
Seedballs 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 seedball has the potential to support seedling emergence and stand establishment, even in the face of intermittent drought. Fabrication of the seedballs 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.
Ludger Herrmann Charles Nwankwo
Hannatou Moussa Hycenth Ndah
Mahamadou Hassane Andrea Knierim
Joachim Müller  Sebastian Romuli
Kansas State University
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
Niger – Aguié, Maradi
Senegal – Bambey
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 seedball 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 seedball 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 seedball 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.
Seedball 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 seedball 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 Seedball Conference" to introduce the technology to a wider group of stakeholders and actors.
The last greenhouse trial has started (seedball effect under water stress). An additional greenhouse trial is planned on bio-fortification of seedballs. A last set of soil samples are under analysis to detect seedball effect depending on soil properties. A concept on the economic evaluation of seedballs 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 seedball technology for their field of study.
Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN)