Low-input farming practices in many parts of the developing world have pushed cultivation onto marginal lands. Sustainability of already fragile ecosystems is threatened. Farmers place a high priority on satisfying subsistence food needs with on-farm production. Population pressure is high throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers in those regions are challenged by the need to put continually more food on their table over the coming years. An optimal control model was developed to investigate alternative farming practices within this setting. Namely, whether farmers would choose continued land expansion of if they would adopt crop intensive practices. The model included an environmental subcomponent to estimate the degradation costs from continued expansion onto marginal areas. The modeling activities from the Sahel of West African reinforce farmers' observed propensity to clear new land in lieu of crop intensification. Model activities suggest an important role for crop intensification under adequate policy conditions as well as the need to introduce new technology before degradation erodes its potential.