African networks and institutions working in Integrated Soil Fertility Management
A new report is available, entitled “Strategic partnership for the Fertile Grounds Initiative“. It provides an overview of African networks and institutions working to improve soil fertility and lists relevant national, sub-regional and Pan-African programmes by governmental, private sector, academic and civil society organizations. It provides the Fertile Grounds Initiative with ideas to build strategic partnerships, and is also of use to other stakeholders with an interest in the area of soil fertility management.
Soil Fertility Management has been identified and selected as one of the knowledge themes of the Food & Business Knowledge Platform. In order to address the problem of declining soil fertility, the Platform can be a space to facilitate the sharing of knowledge about existing and new approaches that improve the recycling of nutrients, increase soil organic matter content and foster the judicious application of fertilizers.
Fertile Grounds Initiative
One of the main partners of the Platform that is active within this theme is the Fertile Grounds Initiative (FGI), a Dutch network created for collaboration and alignment between different actors in nutrient management. Key members are Alterra, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Soil & More International, and ZOA. Principles of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) are key to the FGI network. The FGI proposes a set of activities for the exchange or trading of nutrients across levels ranging from the field and farm level; to districts or watersheds; to national, continental and global policy arenas. The central idea is to establish well-organized nutrient supply and concerted action of various stakeholders at different levels of scale. For this, the FGI team is exploring possible strategic partnerships with networks and organizations as well as identifying specific entry-points to take this idea forward.
In order to assist the FGI network in this endeavour, the Office of the Platform commissioned an explorative study, which was conducted by the Royal Tropical Institute. The methodology of this study consisted of a literature review and a set of interviews with 16 specialists from academic and international institutions, governments, etc., from various African countries. The report of this study is now available. It provides an overview of African networks and institutions working to improve soil fertility and lists relevant national, sub-regional and Pan-African programmes by governmental, private sector, academic and civil society organizations. This overview and a brief complementary analysis provide FGI with ideas and suggestions for concrete steps to anchor and start piloting promising practice in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The stakeholder overview in the report is also of use to other stakeholders with an interest in the area of soil fertility management. Additionally, the FGI partners and the Platform’s Office expect to use the report as a basis to decide on knowledge related strategic issues and to identify opportunities for next steps.
Overview of various networks and their ideas on nutrient exchange and trading
The report shows that several functional national and regional networks in Sub-Saharan Africa work on various aspects of soil fertility and related topics. These networks are hosted by different international and national organizations. The regional networks interact with smallholder partners, mainly via their national partners, and have scattered evidence of workable soil fertility interventions. Other organizations focus on the development of input and output markets that directly influence smallholder farmers’ uptake of technologies and new practices.
Various projects and programmes address soil fertility issues either as the sole focus or as a component of larger agricultural improvement and food security programmes. They cover a wide range of stakeholders at local, national and regional levels. The role of the private sector has primarily been that of a supplier. Public-private partnerships that address soil fertility issues are in an exploratory stage and are mainly active in cash crop value chains.
People interviewed during the course of the study provided valuable critical feedback about FGI’s idea to explore nutrient exchange and trading. This could be further discussed during knowledge-related and other activities.
The interviews pointed to a range of possibilities that could contribute to the improvement of soil fertility in areas with limited soil fertility and nutrient availability. These viewpoints have been summarized as four recommended pillars of action.
Strategic partnerships to initially focus on:
|Pillar 1: Strengthening and broadening scope of existing regional/ sub-regional networks||Institutional development, technical backstopping and funding to bring together the expertise, knowledge and meta-networks available within each of these networks.|
|Pillar 2: Support frameworks for knowledge management of ISFM||Draw on the wealth of knowledge and evidence of ISFM generated over the years to develop training and extension materials as well as support for the tailoring of ISFM technical materials to generate context-specific solutions within specific agro-ecologies|
|Pillar 3: Commissioning pilot studies on using ISFM approaches at community level||Mega consortia that can embrace the diverse agro-ecological, socio-economic and livelihood systems across Africa, and provide space for testing alternative approaches with communities and diverse actors.|
|Pillar 4: Influencing change in policy and institutional landscapes that link ISFM to global development||Development of operational frameworks to link with regional economic organizations and create a policy space to advocate for the inclusion of ISFM as an option for addressing climate change.|
The report concludes that, before the FGI can embark on regional and global partnerships to promote the new approach it proposes, local evidence is needed that substantiates FGI’s guiding principle that nutrient based approaches are an effective way to sustainably enhance soil fertility. The next step is to create the conditions for FGI to promote their ideas by strengthening and broadening the scope of existing networks and organizations including NGOs and farmer organizations. Finally, FGI needs to explore the possibility of collaborating with private sector initiatives that are presently engaged in promoting fertilizer use for productivity enhancement.