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Soil book captures Africa’s projects to tame infertility

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A publication that details the the numerous soil fertility challenges facing smallholder farmers has been launched with an aim of setting a platform to motivate and chart a path towards achieving more impact at a time when low and declining soil fertility challenges in Africa has been blamed for the continent’s low agriculture productivity, hunger, and poverty among millions of rural poor populations, particularly smallholder farmers.

Dubbed Investing in Soil and launched by the Soil Health Programme of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) the book makes it timely as the world enters 2015, which the United Nations has declared as International Year of Soils.

“This book documents lessons generated by AGRA and its grantees in implementing innovative projects over the last 5 years. It offers a windfall of lessons for development agencies, governments, policymakers, researchers and other specialists working to improve African agriculture,” said Bashir Jama, director of AGRA’s Soil Health Program.

Despite the fact that numerous efforts and resources have been committed to address the issue, the lack of integrated and innovative approaches makes many of these interventions bear very little fruits. The need to consider other options becomes imperative in order to promote profitable and sustainable agriculture.

AGRA’s Soil Health Programme was launched in2008 to create physical and financial access to soil nutrients and fertilizers for about 4.1 million household farmers, by 2014, in an efficient, equitable, and sustainable manner. The program also aims to improve these farmers’ access to appropriate knowledge, agronomical practices, and technology packages on integrated soil fertility management, and also influence policy environments for investment in this technology.

Five years of the programme’s response to this agenda ? through the application of a set of approaches and technologies, including “going beyond demonstrations”, improving farm input quality and availability for smallholder farmers, and training and education of scientists and agronomists ? has demonstrated, by practical cases and lessons documented across different projects, that it is important and possible to create innovative solutions that motivate farmers to adopt new technologies which will help them deal with the systemic challenges that confront them.

“Technically, there is agreement among the experts in soils and agronomy that the best approach is one that integrates organic and inorganic sources of nutrients – so-called integrated soil fertility management technologies. The challenge, though, has been how to get farmers to adopt it on a wide scale. And it is this daunting task that AGRA’s Soil Health Program undertook in 2008,” said Dr. Jama.

One great contribution of the programme, so far, has been its huge investments in strengthening national capacity for research and innovation, through the training of over 170 soil scientists and agronomists in 11 universities across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to promote a sustainable agricultural environment, through innovative technologies, including resilience of the agriculture production system to climate change and variability within and across seasons.

“By going “beyond demonstrations”, AGRA has championed the uptake of integrated soil fertility management by thousands of farmers in many countries,” said Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO and Head of Mission, Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Network (FANRPAN). “Investing in soil is an example of how a programme that is informed by research has benefited the livelihoods of millions of poor and disadvantaged farmers, including women and young people. It has done this, in part, through training and capacity building of farmers and agro-service providers, and by engaging non-traditional private-sector players and policymakers.”

Investing in Soil is unique because it presents practical, real-life examples of how science can be integrated into the realm of local community lifestyles to change lives. This publication adds to the repository of knowledge on soil health. It is another invaluable contribution AGRA has made to address the numerous soil fertility challenges confronting Africa’s poor smallholder farmers. It sets the platform to motivate and chart a path towards achieving more impact. The case studies presented in the book makes it timely as the world enters 2015, which the United Nations has declared as International Year of Soils.

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