Sustainable agriculture

Soil management

Soil management can be seen as an integral part of land management and focuses on the different soil types and characteristics that can enhance the soil quality for the aimed land-use. To ensure food security, soil management is important since it can potentially improve agricultural production, combat climate change and contribute to green economic growth. Improving nutrient recycling, increasing organic matter content and applying fertilizers at the right time and in the right amount can ensure nutrients are used more efficiently and soils are healthier. In this Knowledge Portal topic, knowledge is presented that focuses on interventions that can increase the productive capacity of soils.

The Food & Business Knowledge Platform is also actively involved in this theme. lease have a look at the theme page on soil management for the latest news, events, and our own publications.

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Adoption of agroforestry and the impact on household food security among farmers in Malawi
Published by Agricultural Systems Journal,
This article analyzes the impacts of adopting fertilizer trees such as Gliricidia sepium and Faidherbia albida on household food security. Agroforestry is increasingly regarded as an important adaptation and mitigation strategy against climate change. In particular, the use of fertilizer trees has been promoted as a practice that contributes to improved soil fertility through nitrogen fixation. »
The business case for soil
Published by Nature,
In this expert opinion Jess Davis argues that action on soil sustainability must move beyond the farm and into the boardroom. She argues that most businesses are unaware that their bottom lines depend on soil; nor are they aware of the risks they face from its degradation. »
Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade
Published by Nature Journal,
This letter discusses the connection between groundwater depletion and global food consumption. Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation, but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. The letter analyzes regional and crop-specific groundwater depletion data to identify areas of concern. »
Soil and water conservation, and soil fertility management effects on rain water productivity of maize hybrid in Burkina Faso
Published by African Journal of Agricultural Research,
This article assesses the combined effects of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) practices and soil fertility management on rain water productivity of maize hybrid. On-farm experiments were carried out in two districts of Burkina Faso. The treatments were built as association of two SWC technologies combined with three fertilization options. It is found that the efficacy of SWC practices decrease with the increase in the mean annual rainfall. »
Soil and soil fertility management research in sub-Saharan Africa: Fifty years of shifting visions and chequered achievements
Published by Routledge,
This book published describes the various concepts and approaches underlying soil and soil fertility management research in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) over the last fifty years. It argues that knowledge on soil fertility management is crucial for sustainable crop production and food security in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The book provides examples of important innovations and assesses the position of research within the research-to-development continuum, »
Fertilizer use optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa
Published by CABI,
This book provides a detailed explanation on optimizing fertilizer use within an Integrated Soil Fertility Management Framework in 13 African countries. The book shares the findings of the Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) project. The last chapter elaborates on enabling fertilizer use optimization, and how to maximize potential profits of fertilizer use while taking the farmer’s context into account and keeping risks low. At the farm level enabling fertilizer use optimization is in early stages for most countries but considerable experience has been gained from Uganda, as well as Kenya and Tanzania. »
Understanding the adoption and application of conservation agriculture in southern Africa
Published by IFAD,
This info note presents the main results and lessons learned from a programme focusing on productive farming systems based on the principles of conservation agriculture. Lessons learned show that direct seeding systems are the most economical way of planting, that a combination with other climate-smart technologies provides additional benefits, and that crop rotation can improve yields, nutrition and income. The reduction in planting and weeding time can benefit women and indirectly increase the household food basket and income. »
Collaborative action on soil fertility in South Asia: Experiences from Bangladesh and Nepal
Published by IIED, Practical Action,
This working paper describes recent initiatives in Bangladesh and Nepal to reverse declining soil fertility and promote sustainable agricultural practices by increasing the use of organic fertiliser – from both commercial and household sources. The authors state that to break the vicious cycle whereby intensive agriculture in both countries depletes soil organic matter and increases vulnerability to drought, an integrated approach is required which balances applications of organic and chemical fertilisers and promotes agronomic practices that enhance soil fertility. »
Integrated systems research for sustainable smallholder agriculture in the Central Mekong
Published by ICRAF,
This book summarizes the achievements as well as some of the challenges faced while implementing integrated systems research to support the sustainable development of smallholder farming in the uplands of the Mekong region. The third chapter on integrating tree, crop and livestock technologies provides solutions and interventions to sustainably recover land while ensuring short-term economic returns. »
Building adaptive capacity and improving food security in semi-arid Eastern Kenya
Published by CGIAR-CCAFS,
This info-note elaborates on the adaptive capacity and improved food security in East-Kenya. Wote, located in a semi-arid zone of eastern Kenya, is characterized by highly weathered soils. Soil erosion is rampant due to lack of adequate vegetation cover at the beginning of the rainy seasons, and also due to the sparse shrubs. Land degradation and limited soil fertility replenishment have contributed to reduction in agricultural productivity, reducing potential crop yields due to soil nutrient depletion. »
Fertile ground: harnessing the market to reverse soil degradation in South Asia
Published by IIED,
This briefing by IIED argues that there is a need to develop value chains to enable organic fertilisers and composts to supply much needed organic matter to depleted soils. Soils are the foundation of all terrestrial life on the planet and are essential for agricultural production. Yet intensive agriculture involving heavy inputs of chemical fertilisers is degrading soils across South Asia and many other parts of the world, threatening food security. »
Lessons learned: Designing and implementing conservation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa
Published by IFAD,
This “Lessons Learned” document reviews experiences over the last two decades in conservation agriculture and provides practical guidelines for the adoption of CA on program level and more technicallu. The three principles of conservation agriculture are: continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance; permanent organic soil cover; and diversification. While CA took off in Latin America, adoption in sub-Saharan Africa has been limited due to different contexts and challenges. »
Agricultural intensification in Mali and Sudan through improved soil fertility, integrated pest management and mechanization
Published by PROIntenseAfrica,
This report by PROIntenseAfrica discusses the role of improved farm power and mechanization, seed priming, improved soil fertility (microdosing) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices in the intensification of agricultural production in Mali and Sudan. Capacity building, awareness creation through farmers training and access to credits are crucial for the adoption and sustainable use of agricultural technologies in Mali and Sudan. Given the very high loss due to pest damage, intensification of crop production without an adequate protection from pest damage is not economically viable. »
Soil fertility gradients and production constraints for coffee and banana on volcanic mountain slopes in the east African rift
Published by Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment,
This article (PDF) in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment reveals important relations and gradients between soil fertility parameters and its corresponding environment along the slope of the Mt. Elgon in Uganda and Kenya. Mt Elgon is a volcanic mountain and is one of the most productive agricultural regions, dominated by coffee an banana cultivation. These... »
Soil fertility information is transforming agriculture in Ethiopia
Published by Agricultural Transformation Agency,
This article by Tekalign Mamo of the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) describes the succes of the Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS) project. The initiative started in 2012 and is a first-of-its-kind initiative in Africa. EthioSIS uses remote sensing satellite technology and extensive soil sampling to provide high-resolution soil fertility mapping. The enormous soil analysis data generated, together with satellite imagery, are now being used to create the first country-specific digital soil fertility atlas in Africa.Based on this, experts can identify the types of fertilisers to recommend to farmers. Ethiopia’s extensive study of soil fertility and the resulting fertiliser recommendations can serve as an example to other African nations. »
Manure helps feed the world: Integrated manure management demonstrates manure is a valuable resource
Published by GACSA,
This practice brief provides an overview of Integrated Manure Management benefits and the challenges to adopt integrated manure management. The key benefit of Integrated Manure Management is that it prevents nutrient losses as much as possible, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving food security. »
Indigenous African soil enrichment as a climate-smart sustainable agriculture alternative
Published by Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,
This report by Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment describes a current indigenous soil management system in West Africa, in which targeted waste deposition transforms highly weathered, nutrient- and carbon-poor tropical soils into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils, hereafter “African Dark Earths” (AfDE). AfDE provide a model for improving the fertility of highly degraded soils in an environmentally and socially appropriate way, in resource-poor and food-insecure regions of the world. The method is also “climate-smart”, as these soils sequester carbon and enhance the climate-change mitigation potential of carbon-poor tropical soils. »
Integrated Soil Fertility Management: Contributions of framework and practices to climate-smart agriculture
Published by The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture,
This practice brief by The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA) focuses on Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) is a set of practices related to cropping, fertilizers, organic resources and other amendments on smallholder farms to increase production and input use efficiency. ISFM delivers productivity gains, increased resilience, and mitigation benefits. »
Economics of land degradation and improvement: A global assessment for sustainable development
Published by IFPRI, University of Bonn,
This book argues that sustainable soil management and responsible land governance have great potential for being one of the corner stones to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It argues that the costs of doing nothing about land degradatio are several times higher than the costs of taking action to reverse it. This volume deals with land degradation, which is stretching to about 30% of the total global land area. About three billion people reside in these degraded lands. »
Status of the world’s soil resources report
Published by FAO,
This report is a reference document on the status of global soil resources that provides regional assessments of soil change. The report states that soils are rapidly deteriorating due to soil erosion, nutrient depletion, loss of organic carbon, soil sealing and other threats. The report notes how there is a general consensus on soil-related strategies that can, on the one hand, increase the supply of food, while on the other, minimize harmful environmental impacts. »
Wrapping up the International Year of Soils
Published by FAO,
In 2015 we celebrated the “International Year of Soils”. Soil sustains all our agricultural and livestock food production, wood for fuel production, filters water so that we can drink it and fish can live in it. We also use it for construction - therefore it sustains our homes and infrastructure. The FAO highlighted here are the six essentials to take away. »
Soils for life
Published by Farming Matters,
This issue of Farming Matters presents the experiences of farmers who are working successfully, together with others, to improve the health of their soil and their lives. The stories on these pages show that healthy soils increase farmers’ autonomy and long-term productivity. »
More food from fertile grounds : integrating approaches to improve soil fertility
Published by Alterra Wageningen UR,
In this report by Alterra Wageningen UR, a new approach to maintain and improve the productive capacity of soil is highlighted. It aims to provide a balanced insight in the current state of affairs of (decreasing) soil fertility levels in relation to food security. The report provides the motivation to develop new pathways of change. »
Transforming rural livelihoods and landscapes: Sustainable improvements to incomes, food security and the environment
Published by AIRCA,
This white paper (PDF) from AIRCA elaborates on the benefits of a landscape approach to manage synergies and trade-offs of sustainable intensification in agriculture. Landscapes encompass a diversity of interactions between people and environment, and between agricultural and non-agricultural systems. Healthy landscapes not only exhibit healthy ecosystems, but also sustain productive agriculture and communities. This paper sets... »
Soil: A key resource for the EU
Published by The European Commission,
This factsheet by the European Commission highlights 4 facts about soil. »
Handbook for Integrated Soil Fertility Management
Published by Africa Soil Health Consortium,
This handbook for Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) by the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC) is a 156 page that provides a detailed explanation of ISFM principles as applied in a number of African countries. It is anticipated that these materials will be useful for training extension workers in soil fertility management techniques in SSA and for workers involved in rural development that would like to find out more about the principles and practices of ISFM. »
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