Conservation tillage, planting and cultivation with oxen in Burkina Faso

We are working on mechanization of
conservation cropping systems in Burkina Faso in West Africa. Animals
are being trained and will be used next year for tillage, planting, and other
project work. Deonda Seadu is using low stress training
techniques to develop oxen that will be responsive and handy to work. One of our
goals is to reduce the drudgery of hand labor while reducing tillage intensity
to improve soil health, conserve water, and reuse the heavy load of the animals
from conventional plowing. We’re using this zone tillage tool to prepare rip
lines, tilled zones about 6 to 8 inches wide, for planting. The rolling basket
levels and firms the soil and planting zone. Corn is typically planted by hand, these young girls are placing two seeds
every 16 inches. The cipher planner has been around for
many years but it has not been widely accepted because of the relatively high
cost and often poor performance. These planters were designed for
conventional tillage so we made several modifications to improve performance in
minimally tilled soil. Our goal is to place a single seed every eight inches
rather than two seeds every 16 inches. We designed a new seed furrow opener to cut
through the firm soil in the stale seed bed and control the depth of seed
placement in firm soil. We changed from concave to a convex shaped press wheel
to provide more localized seed form in the less tilled soil. We are working with
five local blacksmiths to improve the planters, cultivators, and other equipment.
The blacksmith’s live among the farmers, they repair and build their equipment
and they understand the problems. They will continue the process of equipment
innovation long after we are gone. We are using row cultivation for weed control.
This five tine row cultivator is common in the region but our farmer cooperator
did not like it because the components were too close together
and it had a tendency to plug. He preferred this three-time cultivator
even though the six-inch shovels did not provide full width cutting. It relied on
rolling soil to smother small wings rather than root cutting. Farm tools
must be able to be built by local artisans with locally available
materials. We work with Zongo, the local blacksmith,
to build these 12-inch sweeps from salvaged, high carbon steel, leaf springs
for durability and long life. They have a low crown and low pitched wings for good
soil flow and a level surface. These sweeps are designed to run just
below the soft surface and undercut the weeds with little soil disturbance. Compared to the earlier cultivator
shovels, these new sweeps have several advantages. They increase the effective cutting width by about 20%, they decrease the pulling force by 21% so the animals
can do the same amount of work with less effort or they can work longer with the
same effort. They had greater stability and were easier to operate and they provide a
better way to control and let the soil surface level. We set up a corn wheel to
learn more about the effects of plant spacing and density on corn growth and
yield. The corn was planted in the shape of a
wagon wheel with the corn rows as the spokes, some rows were planted with
doubles every 16 inches, others with single seeds every 8 inches. The rows
had a very wide spacing at the perimeter and converge to a very narrow spacing
near the wheel hub. The corn wheel demonstrates the effects of plant
population density ranging from about 1/2 of normal at the wheel perimeter to
nearly 3 times the normal population about 2 metres from the wheel hub.
We will track crop progress through harvest.


  1. Having worked stock all of my life I would like to make a few comments with no harm or malice intended. First, they need better yokes on these cattle which would enable them to work more comfortably and efficiently. Second, the ploughs appear to be ill-balanced with the handles too short making them harder to manage. The planter I like as it seems to be the best constructed and balanced of all the equipment. In the South we use a single foot plough that handles a variety of sweeps and other points such as a middle buster and half shovel. This type of cultivator has been used for generations here with great success.

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