Healthy soil is vitally important for plants, animals and humans. Unfortunately, a lot of farmland is much less healthy than it could be. This is particularly a problem in Africa. Soil health has suffered there from unsustainable practices. These include slash-and-burn agriculture, continuous mono-cropping and poor nutrient management. Poor soils reduce smallholders’ yields and income. With time, they can make farming impossible. Climate change is likely to make this widespread problem even worse. Degraded soils cannot store moisture well for dry periods, and are more prone to erosion from heavy rain.
Various organizations have launched ‘push’ initiatives to improve soil health in developing countries. However, we believe that improving soil health needs a clear and sustainable ‘pull’ – i.e. business incentives for farmers. These will make the initiatives sustainable, and enable large-scale implementation. We favor tailored combinations of commercially viable, risk-reducing interventions with a rapid return on investment for farmers and their business partners. Sustainable improvement of soil health will enable smallholders to increase the productivity and resilience of their farms.