Africa seeks to rejuvenate soil health for continental food security
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05 أيار 2024
Author :   Isaiah Esipisu
A farmer in Busia, Kenya using weeds to make compost manure : >> Image Credits by:Isaiah Esipisu


NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) - Ahead of the Africa Fertiliser Soil Health and summit scheduled to take place in Nairobi, a leading soil scientist has advised African farmers to consider and scale up use of Integrated Soil Fertility Management approach with focus on return on investment.

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) involves soil management practices that comprise use of fertiliser, organic inputs and improved germ-plasm with focus on sound agronomic principles which according to the scientist, “can change lives of millions of smallholder farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr George Oduor, a Soil Scientist and former research consultant at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“There is need for governments in different parts of the continent to develop locally responsive tools that can advise the farmer on how to combine different organic and inorganic fertilisers, how and when to intercrop with legumes for nitrogen fixation, and what crops to prioritise in different agroecological zones,” said Dr Oduor.

During the Africa Fertiliser and Soil Health (AFSH) summit, government leaders including African Heads of States and Governments, Scientists, representatives from the Civil Society Organisations and the Private Sector will be discussing means of rejuvenating the health of African soils through a theme ‘Listen to the Land’ so as to prevent further deterioration for increased agricultural output and ultimately continental food security.

Similar discourses have seen Kenya, among other African countries commit to different continental agreements such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), which is Africa’s policy framework for agricultural transformation that was created in Maputo in 2003 and strengthened through the Malabo Declaration in 2014 where leaders committed to prioritize food security and nutrition, economic growth and prosperity in Africa.

These commitments were further reinforced through the development of Africa’s common position on food systems, to help deliver on targets of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

The AFSH therefore seeks to evaluate the state of Africa’s soil health, while reviewing the progress made since previous commitments including the 2006 Abuja Declaration, through which African leaders committed to boost fertiliser use for agricultural growth and continental food security.

Though fertilizer consumption in Africa remains low, with farmers applying about 18kg/ha against the 50kg/ha target, researchers have discovered that agricultural land in high rainfall areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, where crop production used to be reliable, are affected by soil acidity.

“When soils are too acidic, then fertiliser nutrients will not be available for the plant, even if the farmer applied higher quantities of the input,” said Dr Oduor. “Such acidic conditions must be corrected by use of lime to raise the pH level,” he said.

So far, scientists from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia are already working on a study to address knowledge gaps related to acidic soil, which is increasingly becoming a challenge for food productivity in the four Eastern Africa countries through a project known as Guiding Acid Soil Management Investments in Africa (GAIA).

Locally, a new handbook which was launched last year by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and Gatsby Africa reveals that 63 per cent of Kenya's arable land has acidic soil, and this is having a negative impact on food production in the country.

Also important, according to Dr Oduor, are trace elements, which also help in unlocking fertiliser nutrients and making it available to the crops.

“Many are time we only talk about macro nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, which are usually required in large quantities. But we forget about the trace elements, such as black boron, calcium, iron and magnesium, which are micronutrients that are required in very small quantities, yet they are extremely critical,” said Dr Oduor.

The AFSH summit will therefore be calling for regional cooperation in fertilizer policy, research and development, investment pooling for production capacity, facilitating cross-border trade, and promoting collaborative research, capacity building, and sharing of best practices for agricultural development.

Scientists will also be looking for local organic sources that can be leveraged locally to manufacture and blend fertilisers to decrease the overdependence on global markets while shortening the supply chain.

Consolidation of financial tools like trade credit guarantees, working capital, and targeted subsidies is therefore necessary in order to minimise market distortions, lower expenses, encourage innovations and fortify input supply chains.

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