Quantifying the impact of land degradation on crop production: the case of Senegal
- 1Centre for World Food Studies (SOW-VU), Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- 2Centre de Suivi Ecologique, Fann-Residence, BP, 15532 Dakar, Senegal
Abstract. Land degradation has been a persistent problem in Senegal for more than a century and by now has become a serious impediment to long-term development. In this paper, we quantify the impact of land degradation on crop yields using the results of a nationwide land degradation assessment. For this, the study needs to address two issues. First, the land degradation assessment comprises qualitative expert judgements that have to be converted into more objective, quantitative terms. We propose a land degradation index and assess its plausibility. Second, observational data on soils, land use, and rainfall do not provide sufficient information to isolate the impact of land degradation. We, therefore, design a pseudo-experiment that for sites with otherwise similar circumstances compares the yield of a site with and one without land degradation. This pairing exercise is conducted under a gradual refining of the classification of circumstances, until a more or less stable response to land degradation is obtained. In this way, we hope to have controlled sufficiently for confounding variables that will bias the estimation of the impact of land degradation on crop yields. A small number of shared characteristics reveal tendencies of "severe" land degradation levels being associated with declining yields as compared to similar sites with "low" degradation levels. However, as we zoom in at more detail some exceptions come to the fore, in particular in areas without fertilizer application. Yet, our overall conclusion is that yield reduction is associated with higher levels of land degradation, irrespective of whether fertilizer is being applied or not.