About 98% of agricultural production in the Sudano Sahelian region of West and Central Africa is based on rainfed crops. With a mean annual rainfall of 300 to 800 mm/year, the number of staple crops is very limited. It includes two grain crops: pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) for sandy soils and grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) for heavier soils. (Corn is grown in high rainfall regions.) Two pulses are also produced: cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) and groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea).
All five crop species are sown at the beginning of the rainy season and harvested three to four months later. Average yields of these crops are only 20% of potential for three main reasons:
- The very low fertility of Sudano Sahelian soils combined with the fact that farmers do not add chemical fertilizers
- Sporadic rainfall and frequent droughts
- Diseases and pests that attack these crops
In the Sudano Sahel, an agro-pastoral system is practiced. The relative importance of the livestock component increases as we advance to regions of lower rainfall. Animal feed production is a very important component of the production system. It is provided by the hay produced from cowpeas and groundnut stems, and by sorghum and millet straw.