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Soil Fertility

IMG_2499 Everyone is agreed that one of the central components of achieving an ‘African Green Revolution’ is to tackle the widespread soil fertility constraints in African agriculture. To this end, AGRA – the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – has launched a major new ‘Soil Health’ programme aimed at 4.1 million farmers across Africa, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committing $198 million to the effort. The Abuja declaration, following on from the African Fertilizer Summit of 2006 set the scene for major investments in boosting fertilizer supplies. CAADP – the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme – has been active in supporting the follow up to the summit, particularly through its work on improving markets and trade. Other initiatives abound – the Millennium Villages programme, Sasakawa-Global 2000 But what are the policy frameworks that really will increase soil fertility in ways that will boost production in a sustainable fashion; where the benefits of the interventions are widely distributed, meeting broader aims of equitable, broad-based development? Here there is much less precision and an urgent need for a concrete debate. For this reason, the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) has decided to invite a wide range of participants to debate some key issues around the way forward for policy, and associated institutional arrangements. Details of the debating questions are outlined below and the document can also be downloaded as a ‘pdf’ document in the right-hand column.

Please continue to contribute whatever you feel moved to write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Comments should be short, provocative and challenging.

We want a thorough debate so feel free to forward to anyone you think would be interested. Links to:

Joost Brouwer

At least in the semi-arid regions of Africa, if within-field soil variability is not taken into account, efforts to increase soil fertility will be less efficient and less likely to be adopted by farmers.  Most of these farmers already practice ‘precision agriculture’ and take short distance variability into consideration in their management. One can safely assume that they do so for good reason, given that their management systems have developed over many centuries.

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Rob Tripp

First, the authors of the document should be congratulated for providing such a thoughtful and comprehensive summary of the issues.

The document describes a number of “models”, many of which have made some contribution, and it correctly points out that virtually all are being promoted to some extent at the present time.

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Wyn Richards

My few comments are based largely on my observation of agricultural practice in the developing world over the past 39 years , not on any great expertise in soil fertility. I refer particularly to the viable farming practices of NR dependent subsistence and subsistence-plus farmers as well as those who are more market oriented. I will not deal with land tenure issues although these certainly need to be addressed by policy makers as there is clearly a major influence on soil fertility emanating from the consequences of unfair land access; nor will I emphasise on the need for policy makers to address tree felling/forest clearing and its influence on soil degradation.  Rather I wish to deal with the lot of the literally hundreds of millions of farmers with access to 0.1 – 2 acres of land  - those who still practice slash and burn shifting cultivation to the more fortunate ones who own land that is ‘farmed’.
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Om P. Rupela

Biological approaches such as crop residues and biomass as surface mulch; integrating annual crops perennial trees and animals, strategic production of plant biomass and local botanicals for crop protection are feasible. These approaches have potential to meet crop nutrients and crop-protection needs in place of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and need to be explored widely. Om P. Rupela, Principal Consultant
FAO, Delhi

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