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.
Soil-Testing & Nutrient Management
African soils vary enormously in quality. So comprehensive testing is crucial. The results form the basis for directly relevant advice to farmers. Tests also enable input providers to offer farmers the most suitable fertilizer blends and other soil amendments.
Market-led crop diversification
In much of sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is based on corn, wheat, and barley monocultures. After just two seasons, cereal mono-cropping can deplete the soil. Pest and disease pressure also increases. Yields then start to fall. Introducing non-cereal crops into such monocultures can help to break pest and disease cycles. Soils benefit, too: Additional crops can rebalance the uptake of nutrients, recycle phosphorus and increase organic matter.
Incentivising Sustainable Farming
We have long been engaged in projects with the World Bank`s BioCarbon Fund in Zambia and Kenya. Based on this experience, we want to continue incentivizing farmers to take up practices that sustainably increase their productivity and also lead to environmental benefits such as healthier soils or carbon sequestration.