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Soil Management

Soils represent a major natural capital asset and have enormous potential to increase agricultural production while, at the same time, combating climate change and contributing to green economic growth. Yet, every year more than Euro 3 thousand million is lost due to soil degradation. To unlock the potential of soils, nutrients need to be used more efficiently. This can be achieved by improving the recycling of nutrients, increasing organic matter content and applying fertilizers of the right type in the right amounts, at the right time and in the right place.

There are several pathways of change that have been proposed to increase the productive capacity of soils. However, with current trends – globalization, urbanization, resource scarcity and climate change – new approaches are required and should be based on Integrated Soil Fertility Management.

The F&BKP supports the emerging Fertile Grounds Initiative (FGI) in connecting with networks and programmes working on integrated soil fertility management in Africa, with the aim of strengthening its collaboration with key partners and enhancing knowledge management between the partners.

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Food insecurity and soil fertility

Approximately 870 million people suffer from food insecurity worldwide. This figure is especially striking as many live in areas where there is a considerable gap between potential and actual production. Many live in regions where crop yields are very low and malnutrition is rampant. This situation will be further exacerbated by anticipated climate change, population growth and changing diets due to urbanization. The UN has repeatedly stated that food insecurity is the single greatest solvable problem facing the world today.

‘Food security is the single greatest solvable problem in the world (UN World Food Day, 16 October 2013). Improving soil fertility is critical to success.’

‘Soil fertility as a proxy for nutrient cycling mechanisms determines the quality and productive capacity of the soil, and consequently the quality of food.’

Interest in soil fertility issues has recently increased among policymakers, leading to several (political) declarations that emphasize the importance of soil quality for sustainable development. However, despite these actions, soil nutrient depletion is continuing and sometimes worsening in developing countries. Unlike other forms of environmental degradation, e.g. physical soil degradation  such as gullies and landslides, pollution, cutting down tropical forests, etc., declining soil fertility is often invisible and, when it does become visible through cascading effects, it is often too late. Restoration is then only possible at very high cost. This is why immediate action is needed to fill the yield gap and stop further deterioration of the poverty gap.

According to many a systemic change in agriculture is urgently needed to counter current threats. Key players in the required transition are smallholders. They have been and will continue to be the worlds’ largest food producers. Paradoxically, they are also the vast majority of the billion people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

Integrated Soil Fertility Management

In our view, new approaches to increase the productive capacity of soils should be based on Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). This includes the application of both mineral fertilizers and organic manures. Subsequently, ISFM should be supplemented with site-specific interventions and a better match between supply and demand of (locally available) nutrients to make the best use of available resources, reduce environmental impacts and enhance green economic growth.

In other words, the integration of the previously separate worlds of supplies of inputs, local interventions and recycling of nutrients is what is needed. We expect that this will increase the use of nutrients, their efficiency and, most importantly, volumes of agricultural produce.

 

Recent Soil Management articles
Report regional workshop on Compost for Sustainable Agriculture
September 28, 2016Knowledge activity
Report regional workshop on Compost for Sustainable Agriculture
By: F&BKP Office Theme: Soil Management

Enhancing the knowledge and raising awareness about uses, challenges and potentials of organic nutrient sources was among the core objectives of a regional workshop by the Fertile Ground Initiative and CIAT held in Nairobi early September 2016. »

Workshop on Composting for Sustainable Agriculture
June 15, 2016Knowledge activity
Workshop on Composting for Sustainable Agriculture
By: F&BKP Office Theme: Soil Management

The Fertile Grounds Initiative (FGI) in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the F&BKP is organizing a workshop on “Composting for Sustainable Agriculture: Facts, myths, potentials and business opportunities”, in Nairobi, Kenya on September 12 and 13, 2016. »

Land rights are crucial but not the ultimate solution
January 6, 2016Expert opinion
Land rights are crucial but not the ultimate solution
By: Han van de Wiel Theme: Soil Management

Last article in the IYS 2015 series. Land rights and investments in soil improvement are closely related. Land-owners or long-term tenants are definitely willing to invest in soil fertility and erosion prevention, but land ownership or tenancy alone is not a panacea. »

Farmers are cherishing their trees again
December 14, 2015Expert opinion
Farmers are cherishing their trees again
By: Marianne Heselmans Theme: Soil Management

Sixth article in the IYS 2015 series. Success stories from Nigeria, China and Ethiopia have proven that it takes 20 years to turn deforested and depleted soil back to green and fertile land, giving its people a future again. Ensuring farmers ownership of trees and land is crucial. »

Precision fertilizing using drones and scanners
October 5, 2015Expert opinion
Precision fertilizing using drones and scanners
By: Marianne Heselmans Theme: Soil Management

Fifth article in the IYS 2015 series. The first drones are already flying over potato, wheat and soya crops. By combining drone-recorded imaging with soil scans, growers are able to target their fertilizing much more precisely than before. This method has great environmental advantages as some plots of soil require far less fertilizer than others. »

Potato takes precedence over combating subsidence - Land users in no hurry to implement measures against subsidence
September 11, 2015Expert opinion
Potato takes precedence over combating subsidence – Land users in no hurry to implement measures against subsidence
By: Stijn van Gils Theme: Soil Management

Fourth article in the IYS 2015 series. Many of the world’s deltas and coastal regions are slowly subsiding, often through water abstraction. Rehydrating the land can combat subsidence. But only if governments and farmers are prepared to act. »

Too much fertilizer, too many brambles
August 5, 2015Expert opinion
Too much fertilizer, too many brambles
By: Marianne Heselmans Theme: Soil Management

Third article in the IYS 2015 series. Excessive levels of nitrogen in the soil due to artificial fertilizers are degrading natural habitats all over the world. Using less artificial fertilizer and eating less meat will help alleviate the problem – although the effects won’t be seen any time soon. »

Nutritions for depleted African soils
June 1, 2015Expert opinion
Nutritions for depleted African soils
By: Hans van de Veen Theme: Soil Management

Second article in the IYS 2015 series. Nowhere is soil fertility deteriorating as rapidly as in Africa. The looming catastrophe is attracting increasing attention but the way in which African farmers can best revitalise their land has become the subject of fierce debate. »

Think twice before ploughing
May 11, 2015Expert opinion
Think twice before ploughing
By: Marianne Heselmans Theme: Soil Management

First article in the IYS 2015 series. Should you dig your garden or plough your fields or not? An increasing number of allotment holders and farmers have stopped tilling. It saves on hard work and soil life stays intact. But it makes things easier for fungi and weeds. »

2015 International Year of Soils
April 7, 2015News
2015 International Year of Soils
By: F&BKP Office Theme: Soil Management

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS 2015) and nominated FAO to implement the IYS 2015, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with governments and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. »