The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Global Soil Partnership has launched, Afrisoils, a new programme designed to enhance soil productivity and reduce soil degradation for increased food production and nutrition security in Africa.
The programme aims to increase soil productivity in 47 African countries by 30 percent, and reduce soil degradation by 25 percent in the next ten years.
Africa is the second driest continent, with nearly half of its surface made up of desert, and 40 percent of it affected by desertification.
About 65 percent of farm land in Africa is affected by erosion-induced losses of topsoil and soil nutrients. If soils are severely damaged or lost, they are very difficult and costly to restore and rehabilitate.
“Healthy soil is the foundation of our food system – supporting healthy crops that nourish people,” said Rene Castro, FAO’s assistant director-general, Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department. “Only with sustainable soil management can we achieve agricultural growth, ensure food security and adapt to a changing climate.”
Many African countries lack policies regulating soil as well as the capacity, knowledge and experience to plan and implement sustainable soil management programmes.
According to Castro, Afrisoils looks at a mix of soil interventions and the adoption of best sustainable soil management practices, which are focused on increasing the soil organic matter content in African soils to improve soil’s fertility and reduce soil degradation.
She said about $50 million is needed to carry out the programme at large scale and for the first ten years.
“To render soils highly fertile and in the long term, we need to implement sustainable soil management practices that are of integral nature. We can’t rely only on mineral fertilizers, a common practice around the world, as soil fertility or soil health depends on how we boost the soil system. We need to use smart, long-term solutions that increase soil productivity while safeguarding ecosystem services, and preventing pollution and degradation,” said Ronald Vargas, FAO Land and Water Officer.
Some of the Afrisoils programme’s interventions will cover increasing soil’s organic carbon and organic matter, which are essential to soil’s fertility, by leaving crop residues and composts; using crop rotation and diversification to capture the soil’s nitrogen; using natural fertilizers, Implementing soil conservation and erosion control measures, rehabilitating degraded soils, curbing deforestation, using climate smart agroforestry practices among others.