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Researchers work on practical approach to address Africa’s soil health crisis

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Picture of Lisa Tiemann, MSU researcher collaborating with Egerton University Scholars in Soil Analysis in Western Kenya.

Lisa Tiemann, a researcher from Michigan State University (MSU), in collaboration with Egerton University, is proposing a practical approach to address the soil health crisis affecting densely populated areas of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  

The region’s traditional agricultural practices are becoming unsustainable due to rising population density, leading to low and stagnant yields. The proposed sustainable form of intensification aims to provide recommendations across varying household-specific conditions 

The research project will focus on three counties in Western Kenya: Uasin Gishu, Kakamega, and Trans Nzoia. The counties, which are among the leading maize producers in the country, are hilly in topography, with altitudes ranging mainly from 1200 meters to 2500 meters, with an annual rainfall of 1000-2000 mm.

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The research will involve resampling the same households (sampled in 2014) and conducting soil tests in the same farm fields to test for soil quality trends through time. The survey at each household will include comprehensive soil testing on the largest maize plot of the 350 sampled farmers; estimates of yields based on measuring their fields and obtaining the farmer’s estimate of the plot’s production; detailed questions about farmer’s soil management practices, both those they use and those they don’t but view as optimal; and question about available organic matter resources. 

The research is part of the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Rural Economic Transformation (SAIRET) initiative, supported by the Alliance for African Partnerships and the African Development Bank.  

The group, including Michigan State University, Egerton University, other multiple African universities, and international agencies, is working to promote sustainable agricultural intensification and resilience in Africa. With connections to international and high-level policymakers across Africa, the results of the proposed project will be disseminated to key to important stakeholders. 

The project will strengthen ties between MSU and Egerton University. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the group is preparing technical materials for the next Africa Fertilizer Summit, and this project’s results will further leverage the group’s connections.

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Soil samples will initially be air-dried and stored prior to analyses, which will be completed in Kenya. The research will measure a suite of soil health metrics including SOM, water-stable aggregates, bulk density, permanganate oxidizable C (POXC), and soil texture. The research project aims to provide recommendations across varying location- and household-specific conditions. It is hoped that the practical approach will help address soil health issues and provide a platform for sustainable forms of agricultural intensification.

The proposed project is a promising approach to addressing the soil health crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it will undoubtedly bring significant benefits to the region’s smallholder farmers. 

Courtesy Egerton University

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