Our Soil, Our Commonwealth; Advancing Soil Health in Sub Saharan Africa

FARA has reiterated strong calls on the core stakeholders of African soil health for the sustainable use of agricultural land in Africa and to ensure the sustainability of the more than 80% of its workforce who obtain livelihoods therefrom.

Speaking at the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) hosted by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo underscored the urgency for collective action by all stakeholders to save the very basis of the survival of the continent’s food and nutrition system. He noted that a crucial element in Africa soil is its fertility status; 83% of the agricultural land has various fertility and other constraints that require costly interventions to correct in order to sustain production. This he indicated, means that Africa soil should be used with lots of caution to sustain the serviceability of Africa’s soils and its preservation for posterity.

Dr. Akinbamijo stressed the need for the continent to place issues around building strong resilient soil facilities and soil usage on the front burners, chiefly because of the aggravated decline in its per capita arable land. He explains that the urgency of the issues around soil health is premised on the fact that soil status has direct or indirect effects on the livelihoods of about 800m people in Africa. This is the proportion of the African working population that have their livelihoods directly linked to the integrity of the soil.

The current use pattern of agricultural soil in Africa is far from the best practice to manage a fragile soil and this threatens its sustainability and longevity. The common continuous cultivation without recourse to nutrient replenishment is a bane of soil fertility in Africa; a situation which can also be linked to the poor land tenure systems in many African communities. Access to arable land is becoming more and more difficult as the continent’s population increases.

“…and when you dig deeper, it is becoming clearer that maintaining the soil, means maintain livelihoods…”

It is critical therefore to examine what the grand plan of Africa is, towards arresting the situation and turning it around. If this is neglected, Dr. Akinbamijo, reiterates, the price the continent and its inhabitants will pay, will be dire.  The current yield gaps in many commodities is a pointer to the insidious cost of failing soil systems. He, therefore, called on the stakeholders to leverage fora like the ongoing AGRF2020 to continue to provide sensitization for all players in all the value chains on the need for the maintenance of healthy soil integrity.

The need for the application of fertilizer either in organic or mineral forms is imperative to keep the soil at a productive level as the organic fertilizer is known to play a dual role of supplying nutrients as well as boosting the colloidal properties of the soils through an increase in the soil organic matter.

 

Making the call to action, the Executive Director highlighted the need to mobilize Africa for a soil’s initiative for a wholesale soil degradation check, taking advantage of the goodwill from external support, which he says is not enough to respond to all the challenges confronting the soil conundrum in Africa.

“Unless we have the facility that can mobilize Africa and Africans for the soils initiative, initiatives like the Agenda 2063, Malabo, STISA and the SDGs, will fail”

He emphasized the role of FARA and the sub-regional agricultural research organizations in championing the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa, which seeks to articulate the science, technology, extension, innovations, policy and social learning that Africa needs to apply in order to meet its agricultural and overall development goals. The Executive Director posited that without science, any attempt at addressing the matter of soil degradation will be an exercise in futility.

Dr. Akinbamijo concluded that considerable effort is required to maintain the soil health in Africa, and such effort will involve investment to operationalize and inventorize the existing technologies and the research to develop sustainable fertility maintenance options that are suitable for commercial agriculture. With increasing clamor for the mechanization of the smallholder systems, suitable machineries for tillage should have the capacity to till within the shallow organic matter layer of Africa soil profile. Efforts should be geared towards the education of soil users especially the farmers; this will include the packaging of existing knowledge on sustainable tillage practices, water management, erosion control, fertilizer application and soil nutrient management practices. The knowledge product should also be disseminated efficiently. The management of Africa soil is vital to the continent’s posterity and prosperity -our soil, our commonwealth, its food and nutritional security.

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