Monday, November 5, 2012

Low soil fertility impeding better crop yields in Africa

Articles such as this appear all too regularly.  The science is pretty simple, but actually implementing sustainable solutions are complicated.

In spite of the progress made in crop improvement, low soil fertility and nutrient depletion continue to present huge obstacles to securing the needed harvests in Africa, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Nteranya Sanginga has said.

Lack of adequate phosphorus for maize
 Dr Saringinga said decisive actions be taken to assist small-scale farmers to grow more and more valuable crops.

Recent studies by IITA in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa that show that majority of the soils in that region are now barren with very little fertility.

The barren soils are a result of years of mining and insufficient replacement of nutrients by smallholder farmers, mostly practicing low-input agriculture.

Soil acidity harms plant roots

Dr Sanginga suggested the adoption of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) which is defined as 'the application of soil fertility management practices, and the knowledge to adapt these to local conditions, which optimize fertilizer and organic resource use efficiency and crop productivity.’
Dr Sanginga said that ISFM presented a means to overcome the dilemma of low productivity, by offering farmers better returns for investment in fertilizer, through its combination with indigenous agro-minerals and available organic resources.

He, however, pointed out that disseminating the knowledge of ISFM and developing incentives for its adoption now stand as a challenge for national planners and rural development specialists, and if done efficiently would result in more productive and sustainable agriculture, improved household and regional food security, and increased incomes among small-scale farmers.

There is a direct relationship between plant nutrition and crop growth

The Africa Union's Abuja declaration on fertilizers for an African Green Revolution, which has stated that efforts to reduce hunger on the continent must begin by addressing its severely depleted soils, recommends countries to increase fertilizer use from the current 8 t/ha to at least 50 t/ha by 2015 to boost agricultural production.

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