The agricultural sector in West Africa is not at present capable of meeting the growing demand for food for its population and of reversing unfavourable trends in soil degradation. We argue that integrated soil management is an essential condition for sustainable agricultural development in the many regions in West Africa where population pressure forces an intensification of land use. Such an approach combines improved soil-moisture storage measures, and the use of organic and inorganic fertilizers and soil amendments. The synergetic effects which could result from this combination are indispensable for achieving the productivity increases needed to cope with the pressure of population. Current (neo-liberal and ecological-participationist) policy approaches are unable to realize the transition towards integrated soil management technologies. The time lags involved in learning to use new technologies, in the adaptation of technologies to local circumstances, and in reaping the benefits of soil fertility investments call for (at least temporary) support of agricultural incomes.