It’s all about the soil. And a recent Nature news article postures soil fertility as vital to food security and poverty alleviation in Africa. Soil in many parts of Africa is deficient in organic matter, as well as key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. Crop yields are the lowest in the world, and synthetic inputs are expensive. While one school of thought for ameliorating this situation promotes a heavy dose of these inorganic soil amendments, there is a growing movement for (literally) greener solutions.
Both the monetary and environmental cost of conventional fertilization methods are seen as too high in the long-term. Conservation agriculture practices, including no-till farming systems, and the use of fertilizer plants (e.g. leguminous trees) improve soil fertility and boost yields. Ultimately these methods may be cheaper and more effective; it is however, difficult to convince farmers to make the transition and to continue employing these techniques once assistance disappears.
The article concludes with the notion that multiple approaches will be needed – from the alternative methods to increased investment in chemical fertilizers. Using more precise application methods for these fertilizers can help. But the crucial issue of governance is also raised. Sound policy and the proper infrastructure (such as transportation mechanisms) are needed for any of the tactics to succeed in the longer term.
Could a landscape approach provide a different lens for addressing the soil fertility issue in Africa? Read the full article and weigh in!