State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Getting to the Root of Africa’s Agriculture Challenges: TropAg and AfSIS Partner to Improve Soil Fertility

Agrium Incorporated and The Mosaic Company have partnered with the Earth Institute’s Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program (TropAg) to improve soil measurement and fertility throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.  The program will link the Millennium Villages Project to the African Soil and Information Systems Project (AfSIS) with the aim of assessing nutrient depletion in soil and making necessary fertilizer recommendations throughout five Millennium Villages: Sauri, Kenya; Koraro, Ethiopia; Ruhiira, Uganda; Mbola, Tanzania; and Mwandama, Malawi.  This information will allow smallholder farmers to better help themselves and their communities through improved agronomic practices, thereby elevating crop yields.

Pedro Sanchez, Director of the Tropical Agriculture & the Rural Environment Program, with a group of Kenyan farmers.

While the Green Revolution of the 1960s allowed Asian and Latin American countries to triple crop yields, food production in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained stagnant and in many cases has even declined.  Since two-thirds of Africans earn their livelihood through food production, this poses a major obstacle in their ability to combat poverty and hunger.  One of the biggest factors contributing to the continent’s low agricultural outputs is soil nutrient depletion.  Africa is currently facing a ‘soil health crisis,’ with as much as three-fourths of African farmland considered to be severely degraded.  The root of the problem lies in poor farming practices and erosion by water and wind, which have stripped many areas of essential nutrients, most notably nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

To reverse this deterioration, African farmers need fertilizer management recommendations that take into account the varied climates, soils, crops, and yield potentials throughout the continent.  Up until this point, most of the research and recommendations have been done regionally without consideration to the unique topographic and socioeconomic elements found from village to village. Currently, farmers are using general recommendations for problems requiring specific knowledge.

The new project will address this information gap by working in each of the identified Millennium Villages to determine the depleted nutrients that are preventing improved crop yields and target fertilizer recommendations to increase those yields.  AfSIS will also run trials to determine the optimal level of nitrogen for the specific crops and landscapes at each site.  The collected information will provide guidance on how to improve nutrient management in order to increase agricultural efficiency and effectiveness on a local scale.

This new effort will complement  TropAg’s mission to address development challenges holistically by looking at the interconnectedness of agriculture, the environment, health, poverty, and economic growth.  The TropAg Program currently leads the Millennium Villages Project and previously managed the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has already seen success in doubling and sometimes even tripling maize yields across varied agro-ecological zones. The contributions of our corporate partners will allow the Project to expand on these successes, one farmer at a time.

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