1.1 Background Information
Soil may be defined as a natural body of loose and unconsolidated materials found on the earth’s surface; it is derived from weathered parent rock materials and decaying organic matters and it is composed of solid particles with liquid and or gases occupying the spaces between the particles (Ohaeri, 2000). It is on this solid that most agricultural as well as non agricultural activities take place. The food we eat, the raw materials needed by the industries are derived from there, directly or indirectly. An enduring food security will depend on a sustainable and productive resource base (Amaechina, 2000).
Soil conservation is an investment to enhance the future productive capacity of the soil, it implies reducing risks of soil erosion to a tolerable limit (Lapar and Pandey, 1999). It is also a set of management strategies for prevention of the soil being eroded from the earth’s surface or becoming chemically altered by over use, salinization, acidification, or other chemical soil contamination (Pagiola, 1993). It also entails not only control over erosion but all those other measures like correction of soil defects, application of manures and fertilizers, proper rotations, irrigation, drainage, which aim at maintaining the productivity of the soil at a high level (Government of India, 2006). Soil conservation is also viewed as the use of those practices which will maximize the present value of the long-run returns from land use (Kaine, 1991).
The need for soil conservation arises due to signs of deteriorating agricultural environments which include erosion, flood disaster, desert encroachment and drought, deforestation, loss of land to other uses; if not checked, the soil becomes degraded. Soil degradation can be defined as a reduction in the land’s actual or potential uses. If this occurs, productivity is affected, leading to rise in the level of inputs and hence, costs needed to restore soil productivity (Ohaeri, 2000). Douglas (1992) stressed that degradation can be slowed or arrested by large range of methods including cultural practices like minimum tillage and contour ploughing, vegetative covers and mechanical measures such as terraces and channels. The principal approaches that soil conservation strategies may take include; vegetative cover, erosion prevention, salinity management, soil pH control, encouraging health of beneficial soil organisms, prevention and remediation of soil contamination and mineralization (Pagiola, 1993).
1.2 Problem Statement
Livelihoods of most of the rural households in Nigeria are dependent on land. The land resource has been employed in varied proportions to meet both subsistence needs and/or cash needs. Equally, farmers have long recognized that land cannot be used without limit. They have therefore experienced a decline in land productivity necessitating some actions on their part. According to Chomba (2004), the traditional redemptive action has been through land-fallow practices, clearing new land areas or crop rotation. However, with increasing land constraints in most areas, fallow periods have drastically declined. The traditional farming system that farmers have previously employed to sustain their productivity cannot any longer effectively work due to population pressure.
One of the biophysical constraints to increasing agricultural productivity is the low fertility of soils; and improving soil fertility levels has become an important issue in development agenda because of its linkage to food insecurity and economic well being of the population (Ajayi et al, 2003 and Bekunda et al, 1997). Also, Hellin (2003) and Sanchez (2003) noted that sustained agricultural production in most sub-Saharan African countries is under threat due to declining soil fertility and loss of biomass. The smallholder farmers in these countries are quite aware of the declining trends in soil fertility, the reasons for this and its impact on yields and household food security. Many farmers also do know to some extent how to practice judicious management of their soils, using nutrients available in their vicinity and adopting agricultural practices geared towards soil fertility improvement such as improved fallow, agroforestry and biomass transfer (Johansson, 2001; Wickama and Mowo, 2001).
Soil resource management efforts are crucial to the economic development of the rural dwellers that depend largely on land for livelihood. However, the success of any soil conservation technique depends not only on the project planners’ perception, but on the farmer’s perception of its economic and environmental costs and benefits (Current et al, 1995). Despite this fact, there seems to be little empirical evidence on the economics of soil conservation practices especially among smallholder farmers in Enugu State. To tackle this problem, this study seeks to provide answers to the following questions:
- what are the socio-economic attributes of farmers in the study area;
- what forms of soil degradation exist, and how do the farmers combat them:
- what is the intensity of adoption of soil conservation practices?
- what are costs incurred and benefits enjoyed by farmers using soil conservation techniques?
- what constraints militate against smallholders adoption of soil conservation practices?
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this study is to carry out an economic analysis of the soil conservation practices among small-scale farmers in Enugu State. The specific objectives are to:
- describe the socio-economic characteristics of farmers in the study area;
- identify the methods/technologies used in combating soil degradation in the study area;
- describe the intensity of adoption of selected soil conservation practices by the farmers;
- evaluate the relationship between socio-economic characteristics of farmers and the intensity of adoption of selected soil conservation practices;
- estimate the costs and benefits of selected methods of conserving the soil in the study area;
- identify farmers’ constraints in the adoption of soil conservation practices;
- make policy recommendations based on the findings.
1.4 Research Hypotheses
Based on the specific objectives of this study, the following null hypotheses would be tested.
- Socio-economic characteristics of the farmers have no significant influence on the intensity of adoption of selected soil conservation practices in the study area.
- There is no significant difference between the benefits and costs of selected soil conservation practices in the study area.
1.5 Justification of the Study
In most of the developing nations of the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that the key to real socio-economic advancement is judicious exploitation of soil resources to increase agricultural productivity. In many of these countries, population is increasing rapidly and increased crop and animal yields are essential to feed the population and to exchange surplus for manufactured goods and social services (Ohaeri, 2000). Agricultural produce may provide one of the means of procuring the foreign exchange needed for development (Olaitan et al, 1984).
Concerns about the effects of soil erosion have led to increased promotion of soil conservation technologies in developing countries. Donor and government funds have been invested in water-shed management and soil conservation project and farmers have been encouraged to invest their own resources in soil conservation technologies. In order to increase the efficiency with which these resources are allocated to soil conservation activities, the effects of soil erosion need to be assessed. The costs of erosion and other soil degradation factors can be used to determine the priority for action; and the benefits of potential causes of action can be used to assess their sustainability and efficiency in resource use.
This study would also serve as an exploratory step to identifying the techniques and socio-economic factors affecting soil conservation by small-scale farmers which would then serve as criteria model for agricultural production policy in future. It would create awareness of the benefits or losses to be encountered in soil conservation methods in the study area. Vital information would also be made available to agencies involved in setting or making soil conservation practices available
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