African farmers advised to maintain soil health for improved productivity

While farmers in many parts of the world regularly harvest up to five tons of maize per hectare about 2.5 acres, African farmers typically harvest one ton.

Wednesday September 3 2014

By Lominda Afedraru

Adis Ababa- Farmers in Africa are faced with the challenge of a number of factors that lead to infertile soils leading to less productivity farm inputs.

Some of the challenges arise as a result of problems like soil erosion due to flooding, soil silting, lack of crop rotation to keep soils fertile, prolonged droughts and lack of fertilisers and organic farming among others.

However,  a number of stakeholders both public and private sector are putting their hands together in a bid to sensitise farmers on to how they can keep their soils fertile for improved agricultural production.

One such a stakeholder is the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that has a programme particularly on soil health with the main objective of creating physical and financial access to appropriate soil nutrients and fertiliser use by small holder farmers in an equitable manner.

The Agra soil health programme management is aiming at reaching 4.1 million small holder farmers in the thirteen different countries where the programme is being implemented.

The countries include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

The programme implementation is already on going and the team is works jointly in collaboration with public institutions like research institutes, private sector, policy makers who are directly involved in ensuring soil quality is maintained in a bid for farmers to realise better yields.

The team tries to ensure that there is knowledge-sharing with farmers on how to maintain their soil health, agronomic practices and technology packages in an efficient, equitable and sustainable manner.

The director for the programme Dr Bashir Jama while presenting an overview about the soil health initiative at the 2014 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF),  said the project  is aimed at increasing income, improve food security and reduce household poverty by promoting the use and adoption of integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices among smallholder farmers and creating an enabling environment for farmers to adopt the practices in an efficient, equitable and sustainable manner across sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers are encouraged to use quality germplasm developed by scientists in research institutes coupled with fertiliser use and organic manure for better adaption on their local farms.

Giving examples from farmers in Malawi,  Dr Jama explained that farmers whose soils have less nutrients, they should use local organic manure which they can generate from animal dung as well as fertiliser use.

Citing the example from Uganda, he said farmers in this country have been in position to carry out intercropping as means of improving their soil nutrients as well as use of legume crops that have been inoculated with Rhizobia for nitrogen fixation.

‘’Improving soil fertility is fundamental to enhancing the productivity of small holder agriculture in Africa and it is the starting point. Without it, investments in other yield enhancing technologies are not likely to bear much fruit. Technically there is agreement among the experts in soil and agronomy that the best approach is one that integrates organic and inorganic sources of nutrients and this is the reason why AGRA started this program in the year 2008,’’ he explained.

What the team does in every country is to create awareness of possible technologies by setting up demonstration gardens in different farmer locations where one farm is embedded with nutrients such as fertilisers while another has the component of use of legume crops for nitrogen fixation while the other is purely with not any technology application.

However,  although this theory seemed to be working, the team wanted to take the approach of going beyond demonstration gardens  by involving scientific skills and so leading to training 170 soil scientists in the different countries of operation.

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