Agriculture in Benin
West Africa encompases several agro-ecological zones, from the humid coast in the south to the desert in the north. Northern Benin sits at the boundary of the Sudanian and Sahelian Zones; it is not as dry as the true semi-arid and arid tropics of Niger and Burkina Faso, but it nonetheless suffers from a six-month dry season during which agricultural productivity ceases. Average daily temperature highs and lows and monthly precipitation for the region can be seen in the figure below.
Staple crops of the region include cassava, yam, maize, sorghum, millet, and rice. The region also produces cotton, one of Benin's main exports. Kalalé itself lies in the "yam zone" of Benin. Yams produce more calories per hectare than many other staples, but they are incredibly labor-intesive (the soil must be broken up and formed into tall conical mounds in which the tubers grow) and slow-growing (maturing in 6-7 months). Sorghum and millet give fewer calories per hectare, but can be more drought-tolerant. Almost all land in the region is rain-fed, as irrigation infrastructure is prohibitively expensive. Protein -- from chicken/eggs, goat, and sheep, as well as a variety of cheese made by local Peulh (Fulani) pastoralists -- can also be prohibitively expensive to the poorest in the region. Micronutrient sources include mangos (in season), several leafy greens, and occasionally tomatos and other market vegetables. The dry season creates difficulties particularly in this realm for subsistence farmers, as production capacity is limited to plots that can be watered by hand.
Sources and Suggestions
FAO Statistical Yearbook Benin Factsheet [.pdf]
World Resources Institute Earthtrends Benin Food and Agriculture Page