Water Use and Yield of Millet Under the Zai System: Understanding the Processes Using Simulation

  • Dougbedji FatondjiEmail author
  • Andre Bationo
  • Ramadjita Tabo
  • James W. Jones
  • A. Adamou
  • O. Hassane


In the drylands of Africa about 90% of the population is rural and depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. There is an increasing pressure on the natural resources due to the high population growth, and farmers are constrained to cultivate marginal lands, thereby compounding the land degradation problem. Low and erratic rainfall, its poor distribution within the growing season, prolonged dry spells, lack of adequate water supply due to soil physical degradation (soil crusting) and nutrient shortage adversely affect crop growth and yields. To address these problems, indigenous, easy to implement innovations such as the zai system may provide solutions to increase productivity. The effect of three planting techniques (Flat, zai pit of 25 cm and zai pit of 50 cm diameter) and three fertility management options (control, crop residue, cattle manure) were tested at Damari in 1999 in Niger. Soil water was monitored from weekly measurements using a Didcot Wallingford neutron probe throughout the growing period. Data from that experiment were used to determine if the CERES-Millet model of the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT) is sufficiently robust to predict yield response to the zai water harvesting system. The model simulated the observed yield response of the control and the manure-amended plots with high r-square (0.99), low residual mean error square (340 kg·ha−1 for above ground biomass and 94 kg·ha−1 for grain yield) and high d-statistic (0.99), but this was not the case for the crop residue treatment, which was over-predicted. Soil water content and extractable soil water were also well simulated for the control and manure treatments. This evaluation of DSSAT provides a starting point for research to evaluate the performance of these technologies over wider areas in West Africa. The application of models for such studies must be interpreted in the context of limitations of the model to address some constraints. Nevertheless, the highly variable crop responses due to interacting effects of rainfall, management and adverse soil conditions in this region make this an extremely important approach in planning for technology ­adoption in an area and in interpreting results from experimental field research.


Zai DSSAT Simulation Damari Water haversting 


  1. Adamou A, Bationo A, Tabo R Koala S (2007) Improving soil fertility through the use of organic and inorganic plant nutrient and crop rotation in Niger. In: Bationo A, Waswa B, Kihara J, Kimetu J, (eds) Advance in integrated soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa: challenges and opportunities. Proceeding of AfNet international symposium, Yaounde Cameroun, 17–21 Sept 2004. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 589–598Google Scholar
  2. Agyare WA, Antwi BO, Quansah C (2008) Soil and water conservation in Ghana: practices research and future direction. In: Bationo A, Tabo R, Waswa B, Okeyo J, Kihara J, Fosu M, Kabore S (eds) Synthesis of soil water and nutrient management research in the Volta Basin. Ecomedia Ltd Publisher, NairobiGoogle Scholar
  3. Bado BV, Bationo A, Lompo F, Cescas MP, Sedogo MP (2007) Mineral fertilizers, organic amendments and crop rotation managements for soil fertility maintenance in the Guinean zone of Burkina Faso (West Africa). In: Bationo A, Waswa B, Kihara J, Kimetu J (eds) Advance in integrated soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa: challenges and opportunities. Proceedings of AfNet international symposium, Yaounde Cameroun, 17–21 Sept 2004. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 589–598Google Scholar
  4. Bationo A, Christianson CB, Mokwunye AU (1989) Soil fertility management of pearl millet-producing sandy soil of Sahelian west Africa: the Niger experience. In: ICRISAT International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics 1989. Soil, crop and water management systems for rainfed agriculture in the Sudano-Sahelian zone. Proceedings of an international workshop, 7–11 Jan 1987. ICRISAT Sahelian Center, Niamey, NigerGoogle Scholar
  5. Bationo A, Sedogo MP, Buerkert A, Ayuk E (1995) Recent achievements on agronomic evaluation of phosphorus fertilizer sources and management in the west Africa semi-arid tropics. In: Ganry F, Campbell B (eds) Sustainable land management and African semi-arid and sub-humid region. Proceeding of the SCOPE workshop, Dakar, Senegal, 15–19 Nov 1993. CIRAD, Montpellier, pp 99–109Google Scholar
  6. Bationo A, Rhodes E, Smaling EMA, Visker C (1996) Technologies for restoring soil fertility. In: Mokwunye AU, de Jager A, Smaling EMA (eds) Restoring and maintaining the productivity level of West African soils: key to sustainable development. IFDC-Africa, LEI-DLO abd SC-DLO, Miscellaneous Fertilizer Studies No. 14, International Fertilizer Development Center, Muscle Shoals (USA)Google Scholar
  7. Bationo A, Mokwunye U, Vlek PLG, Koala S, Shapiro BI (2003) Soil fertility management for sustainable land use in the West African Sudano-Sahelian zone. In: Gichuru MP et al (eds) Soil fertility management in Africa: a regional perspective. Academy Science Publisher & Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility, Nairobi, pp 253–292Google Scholar
  8. Boote KJ, Jones JW, Bactchelor WD, Mafziger ED, Myers O (2003) Genetic coefficients in the CROPGRO-soybean model: links to field performance and genomics. Agron J 95:32–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buerkert A, Piepho HP, Bationo A (2002) Multi-site time trend analysis of soil fertility management effect on crop production in sub-Saharan West Africa. Exp Agric 38:163–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Casenave A et, Valentin C (1989) Les états de surface de la zone sahelienne; Influence sur l’infiltration. Les processus et les facteurs de réorganisarion superficielle. (ed) ORSTOM – Institut Français de Recherche Scientifique pour le Développement en Coopération. Collection Didactiques, Paris 1989, pp 65–190Google Scholar
  11. Dzotsi KA (2007) Comparison of measured and simulated responses of maize to phosphorus levels in Ghana. MS thesis, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, 175 ppGoogle Scholar
  12. Esse PC, Buerkert A, Hiernaux P, Assa A (2001) Decomposition and nutrient release from ruminant manure on acid sandy soils in the Sahelian zone of Niger, West Africa. Agr Ecosyst Environ 83:55–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fatondji D (2002) Organic amendment decomposition, nutrient release and nutrient uptake by millet (Pennisetum glaucum) in a traditional land rehabilitation technique (zaï) in the Sahel. PhD Thesis, Ecological and Development Series No 1. Center for development research, University of Bonn, Cuvillier Verlag, GottingenGoogle Scholar
  14. Fatondji D, Martius C, Bielders C, Vlek P, Bationo A, Gérard B (2006) Effect of planting technique and amendment type on pearl millet yield, nutrient uptake, and water use on degraded land in Niger. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 76:203–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fatondji D, Martius C, Bielders C, Vlek P, Bationo A (2011) Effect of zai soil and water conservation technique on water balance and the fate of nitrate from organic amendments applied: A case of degraded crusted soils in Niger. In A. Bationo et al. (eds) Innovations as key to the green revolution in Africa, 1115 DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-2543-2_114Google Scholar
  16. Gijsman AJ, Jagtap SS, Jones JW (2003) Wading through a swamp of complete confusion: how to choose a method for estimating soil water retention parameters for crop models. Eur J Agron 18:77–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Godwin DC, Singh U (1998) Nitrogen balance and crop response to nitrogen in upland and lowland cropping systems. In: Tsuji GY, Hoogenboom G, Thornton PK (eds) Systems approaches for sustainable agricultural development; understanding options for agricultural production. Kluwer Academic, Boston, pp 55–77Google Scholar
  18. Hassan A (1996) Improved traditional planting pits in the Tahoua department, Niger. An example of rapid adoption by farmers. In: Chris R (ed) Sustaining the soil. Indigenous soil and water conservation in Africa. Earthscan, London, pp 56–61Google Scholar
  19. Jones JW, Tsuji GY, Hoogenboom G, Hunt LA, Thornton PK, Wilkens P, Imamura DT, Bowen WT, Singh U (1998) Decision support system for agrotechnology transfer: DSSAT v3. In: Tsuji GY, Hoogenboom G, Thornton PK (eds) Systems approaches for sustainable agricultural development; understanding options for agricultural production. Kluwer Academic, Boston, pp 157–177Google Scholar
  20. Jones JW, Hoogenboom G, Porter CH, Boote KJ, Batchelor WD, Hunt LA, Wilkens PW, Singh U, Gijsman AJ, Ritchie T (2003) The DSSAT cropping system model. Eur J Agron 18(3–4):235–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mavromatis TK, Boote KJ, Jones JW, Irmak A, Shinde D, Hoogenboom G (2001) Developing genetic coefficients for crop simulation models with data from crop performance trials. Crop Sci 41:40–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Naab JB, Singh P, Boote KJ, Jones JW, Marfo KO (2004) Using the CROPGRO-peanut model to quantify yield gaps of peanut in the Guinean savanna zone of Ghana. Agron J 96:1231–1242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Roose E, Kabore V, Guenat C (1993) Le“zaï”: Fonctionnement, limites et amélioration d’une pratique traditionnelle africaine de réhabilitation de la végétation et de la productivité des terres dégradées en région soudano-sahelienne (Burkina Faso). - Cahier de l’ORSTOM, Serie Pedologie XXVIII (2):159–173Google Scholar
  24. Schlecht E, Hiernaux P, Achard F, Turner MD (2004) Livestock related nutrient budgets within village territories in western Niger. Nutr Cycl Agroecosys 70:303–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sinaj S, Buerkert A, El-Hadjj G, Bationo A, Traore H, Frossard E (2001) Effect of fertility management strategies on phosphorus bioavailability in four West African soils. Plant Soil 233:71–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Singh U, Ritchie JT, Thornton PK (1991) CERES-Cereal model for wheat, maize sorghum, barley and pearl millet. Agron Abstract 78Google Scholar
  27. Singh P, Boote KJ, Yogeswara Rao A, Iruthayaraj MR, Sheikh AM, Hundal SS, Narang RS, Singh P (1994) Evaluation of the groundnut model PNUTGRO for crop response to water availability, sowing dates, and seasons. Field Crops Res 39:147–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sivakumar MVK, Maidukia A, Stern RD (1993) Agroclimatology of West Africa: Niger, 2nd edn. Information Bulletin 5. ICRISAT, Patancheru, 116 ppGoogle Scholar
  29. Soil Survey Staff (1998) Keys to soil taxonomy, 8th edn. USDA/NRCS, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  30. Sundquist B (2004) Land area data and aquatic area data; a compilation, 1st edn. March, 2004. [checked 5.12.2005]
  31. Tabo R, Bationo A, Gerard B, Ndjeunga J, Marchal D, Amadou B, Garba MA, Sogodogo D, Taonda JBS, Hassane O, Diallo MK, Koala S (2007) Improving cereal productivity and farmers’ income using a strategic application of fertilizers in west Africa. In: Bationo A, Waswa B, Kihara J, Kimetu J (eds) Advance in integrated soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa: challenges and opportunities. Proceeding of AfNet international symposium, Yaounde Cameroun, 17–21 Sept 2004. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 589–598Google Scholar
  32. Tsuji GY, Uehara G, Balas S (1994) Decision support system for agrotechnology transfer (DSSAT) v3. International Benchmark Sites Network for Agrotechnology Transfer, University of Hawaii, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  33. Willmott CJ (1981) On the validation of models. Phys Geogr 2:184–194Google Scholar
  34. Yamoah CF, Bationo A, Shapiro B, Koala S (2002) Trend and stability analysis of millet yield treated with fertilizer and crop residue in the Sahel. Field Crop Res 75:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Zougmoré R, Kambou NF, Zida Z (2003) Role of nutrient amendments in the success of half-moon soil and water conservation practice in semiarid Burkina Faso. Soil Till Res 71:143–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dougbedji Fatondji
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andre Bationo
    • 2
  • Ramadjita Tabo
    • 3
    • 4
  • James W. Jones
    • 5
  • A. Adamou
    • 1
  • O. Hassane
    • 1
  1. 1.Soil & water management, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid TropicNiameyNiger
  2. 2.Soil Health Program, Alliance for a Green Revolution, in Africa (AGRA)Airport-AccraGhana
  3. 3.ICRISAT NiameyNiameyNiger
  4. 4.Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)AccraGhana
  5. 5.Agricultural and Biological Engineering DepartmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations