In recent years, simulation models have been used as a complementary tool for research and for quantifying soil carbon sequestration under widely varying conditions. This has improved the understanding and prediction of soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and crop yield responses to soil and climate conditions and crop management scenarios. The goal of the present study was to estimate the changes in SOC for different cropping systems in West Africa using a simulation model. A crop rotation experiment conducted in Farakô-Ba, Burkina Faso was used to evaluate the performance of the cropping system model (CSM) of the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT) for simulating yield of different crops. Eight crop rotations that included cotton, sorghum, peanut, maize and fallow, and three different management scenarios, one without N (control), one with chemical fertilizer (N) and one with manure applications, were studied. The CSM was able to simulate the yield trends of various crops, with inconsistencies for a few years. The simulated SOC increased slightly across the years for the sorghum–fallow rotation with manure application. However, SOC decreased for all other rotations except for the continuous fallow (native grassland), in which the SOC remained stable. The model simulated SOC for the continuous fallow system with a high degree of accuracy normalized root mean square error (RMSE)=0·001, while for the other crop rotations the simulated SOC values were generally within the standard deviation (s.d.) range of the observed data. The crop rotations that included a supplemental N-fertilizer or manure application showed an increase in the average simulated aboveground biomass for all crops. The incorporation of this biomass into the soil after harvest reduced the loss of SOC. In the present study, the observed SOC data were used for characterization of production systems with different SOC dynamics. Following careful evaluation of the CSM with observed soil organic matter (SOM) data similar to the study presented here, there are many opportunities for the application of the CSM for carbon sequestration and resource management in Sub-Saharan Africa.