Soils and fertilisers


Organic or chemical fertiliser? African soils need both

by Lou Del Bello

African agriculture often involves ‘nutrient mining’, a term used to describe the failure to replace the soil nutrients that crops remove as they grow. Over time, soils degrade and productivity declines, threatening food security in increasingly populated Africa.

Bernard Vanlauwe, director of the Central Africa hub of the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, says that to boost farm productivity and keep soils healthy in the long term, the ongoing conflict about whether it is best to use organic or chemical fertilisers must end. Soils, he says in this audio opinion, need both. The secret to enriching soils without polluting the water system with an excess of fertiliser is not about their nature — chemical or organic — but about how they are used. –

Read the text: SciDevNet

Small scale farmers need affordable and practical solutions to protect their soil


VIDEO: Farmers talk soil


2015 is THE year that is putting soils on the global map. Everyone in the development and agriculture world is talking about it, not least the researchers, donors and experts currently gathered in Berlin for Global Soils Week (GSW).

But while those at the top search for solutions to this global crisis, they must ensure that the guardians of the majority of the world’s farmland – smallholder farmers – are included.

Today (21 April 2015) Senior Soil Scientist Rolf Sommer presented a new short film at GSW asking those present to ensure just that.

“Small scale farmers need affordable and practical solutions to protect their soil,” Sommer said. “We need to listen to farmers to find out what soil means to them, how they manage soil fertility and what information they rely on to do so. And we need to work with them so that we can develop appropriate and culturally specific technologies that they can – and, more importantly, will – incorporate into their farming practices.”

In the film, entitled Talking Soils – Farmers Voices, farmers from Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia share their views on soil, what they know and how they manage it. Perhaps the starkest observation is how knowledge and practices vary across the countries and even across communities.

Read the full article: CIAT Blog

Small scale farmers to feed at least their own hungry mouths in Namibia

Photo credit: allAfrica

Farmers in Namibia

Namibia: Drought Forces Farmers Back to the Drawing Board

It’s back to the drawing board for communal farmers in light of the potentially devastating drought knocking on the doors of each and every household in the North-Central areas of Namibia.

Farmers in Namibia will be able to export more than five stud animals a year following the lifting of restrictions on exports. (Image source: donkeycart) -
Farmers in Namibia will be able to export more than five stud animals a year following the lifting of restrictions on exports. (Image source: donkeycart) –

Proposing a new and enlightened way of thinking, national coordinator of the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) in Oshakati, Robert Tobias, says there is one small window standing open for communal farmers in what could turn out to be the toughest year in decades. “We have to start planning for these reoccurring situations in our own backyard gardens where we as small scale crop producers are capably of feeding at least our own hungry mouths.

Traditionally, crop fields and gardens are the sole property of the owner, unlike livestock grazing which is shared by all and sundry. “One way of working our way out of tight spots like we are experiencing now is to start growing fodder on parts them and expand the fields. These pastures should be grazed until March and then be closed to grow them and make hay that can be stored for dry times like now. The grass and the grain part of these fields should be rotated regularly as grass pastures improve soil fertility and enhance subsequent grain yields,” he advises as he stresses the importance of proper management skills that needed to be taught to the NNFU’s some 3 000 members in the area.

Read the full article: allAfrica

Climate Smart Agriculture in Kenya – techniques to benefit small-holder farmers

Photo credit: Google

The Powerful Potential of SoilIQ for Kenyan Farmers

Initiative Designed to Help Kenyan Farmers Cope With Climate Change

PR Newswire (New York)

New Initiative designed to help farmers cope with Climate Change in Kenya

Agricultural officers call for adoption of efficient farming methods in Kenya -
Agricultural officers call for adoption of efficient farming methods in Kenya –

The UKaid funded Finance Innovation for Climate Change has designed an initiative in Kenya that will help farmers cope with the impact of climate change. The initiative known as the Climate Smart Agriculture will provide loans to farmers, which will go into increasing production efficiency through soil testing analysis and soil fertility management, crop protection services such as weeding, pest/disease control, farm produce harvesting, among other techniques that will benefit small-holder farmers.

Read the full article: allAfrica


Composting made easy

Photo credit: Agricultures Network

In 8-12 weeks, the straw from a hectare of paddy can produce 2.5 tonnes of good quality compost. Photo: U Kyaw Saing

Keeping composting simple

More than two decades ago in the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, farmers began planting two rice crops each year. Rice production increased, but for how long? Depleted organic matter and acidification are now affecting soil health, and farmers who can’t afford fertilizer are seeing their rice yields declining. This is why 200 farmers started to compost rice straw. With this they have been able to maintain rice yields and reduce fertilizer costs. They are still improving their composting techniques and some are starting to experiment with green manures.
Over the past year farmers have built over 200 compost piles and are already experiencing the benefits. Photo: Myo Kyaw Kyaw -
Over the past year farmers have built over 200 compost piles and are already experiencing the benefits. Photo: Myo Kyaw Kyaw –

Compost made easy

In 8-12 weeks, the straw from a hectare of paddy can produce 2.5 tonnes of good quality compost, which when added to the soil provides 50 kg of nitrogen, or 40-50% of the total nitrogen requirements of a rice crop. Cutting fertilizer costs by half is a huge advantage for farmers as they struggle with debt from the need to buy more and more fertilizer each year.

The basic compost combination is dry matter, fresh green matter and a microbial input. Rice straw, dried leaves and even coconut fibre are good sources of dry matter. Freshly cut leaves and weeds, banana trunks, water hyacinth, or any plants in and around the fields and gardens are used as green matter. The microbial input helps to transform the biomass into the nutrient-rich material we call compost, whether it is fresh soil, forest humus, animal manure or fresh compost. Handfuls of wood ash add phosphorus and potassium and even the basic combination can be adapted. If a farmer has no more green matter, he will still get compost but of a different quality. And if manure is in short supply, it helps to add a diluted solution of cow or pig dung with rice straw and other dry matter. This promotes the growth of microbes, nitrogen content and decomposition, and is a cheap and easy way to overcome the lack of green matter or manure.

Read the full article: Agricultures Network


The role of halophytes in salt-affected areas

 Photo credit: Google

Halophytes on the Dhabaiya Gypsum Dunes (UAE)

How can we take advantage of halophyte properties to cope with heavy metal toxicity in salt-affected areas?

A halophyte is a plant that grows in waters of high salinity, coming into contact with saline water through its roots or by salt spray, such as in saline semi-deserts, mangrove swamps, marshes and sloughs, and seashores. (Wikipedia)

by Stanley LuttsIsabelle Lefèvre


Background Many areas throughout the world are simultaneously contaminated by high concentrations of soluble salts and by high concentrations of heavy metals that constitute a serious threat to human health. The use of plants to extract or stabilize pollutants is an interesting alternative to classical expensive decontamination procedures. However, suitable plant species still need to be identified for reclamation of substrates presenting a high electrical conductivity.

Scope Halophytic plant species are able to cope with several abiotic constraints occurring simultaneously in their natural environment. This review considers their putative interest for remediation of polluted soil in relation to their ability to sequester absorbed toxic ions in trichomes or vacuoles, to perform efficient osmotic adjustment and to limit the deleterious impact of oxidative stress. These physiological adaptations are considered in relation to the impact of salt on heavy metal bioavailabilty in two types of ecosystem: (1) salt marshes and mangroves, and (2) mine tailings in semi-arid areas.

Conclusions Numerous halophytes exhibit a high level of heavy metal accumulation and external NaCl may directly influence heavy metal speciation and absorption rate. Maintenance of biomass production and plant water status makes some halophytes promising candidates for further management of heavy-metal-polluted areas in both saline and non-saline environments.

See also: Oxford Journals

Preventing land degradation and effective use of water resources

Photo credit: Google

Eleusine coracana is an annual plant widely grown as a cereal in the arid areas of Africa and Asia. Earliest Karnataka civilisation shows it was grown in Hallur in the later Iron Age. Wikipedia

Breeding climate-smart crops top priority for Indian state of Karnataka

Breeding climate-smart sorghum, finger millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut crops figure high on the agenda of the Government of Karnataka (GoK).

Chickpea (Cicer anietinum) -
Chickpea (Cicer anietinum) –

Mr Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister of Agriculture, GoK, said that Karnataka will soon sign an agreement with ICRISAT and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, India, to produce non-GM varieties of the above five crops. A consortium would be formed for this purpose and will be funded by GoK.

Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) -
Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) –

With 2015 being the International Year of Soils, he said that the upcoming Bhoochetana Plus program would lay great emphasis on preventing land degradation and effective use of water resources.

“Our soils are not just thirsty, they are hungry too,” he said referring to the micronutrient deficiencies that the soil tests have revealed during the first phase of the Bhoochetana project initiated by ICRISAT. He said the government aims to issue Soil Health Cards to all farmers in Karnataka by 2016-17.

Read the full article: ICRISAT

Effective drought and desertification mitigation with Pigeon Pea

Photo credit: Agropedia

Intercropping Maize-Pigeon Pea

The use of Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) for drought mitigation in Nigeria

by M. E. Emefiene, A. B. Salaudeen and  A. Y. Yaroson


Drought poses one of the most important environmental constraints to plant survival and productivity and by implication-food insecurity in the tropics. Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) has the potential of fertilizing the soil thereby improving agricultural production and ensure green environmental and ecosystem stability.

Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) -
Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) –


Despite the ability of the plant to improve soil fertility and promote greening environment, it has not attracted adequate awareness as a soil improvement plant. This paper highlights the information on the plant in order to intensify awareness for its widespread adoption to achieve the much desired sustainable resource use for greening our economy and environmental management.

The successful widespread adoption of the plant will translate to effective drought, desertification and sustainable climate change mitigation approach in Nigeria.

Read the full article: International Letters of Natural Sciences

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)

Photo credit: The Guardian

From dust bowl to bread basket: digging the dirt on soil erosion

by Caspar van Vark

Pinpointed by Heriberto Lopez

Poor soil quality has seen agricultural productivity in Africa decline when it drastically needs to increase. Will 2015’s International Year of Soils help?


A recent report on conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils recommends a holistic approach to soil management called Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). This includes adding organic matter such as crop residues and manure into the soil, applying small (and therefore affordable) amounts of mineral fertilisers and planting legume crops such as cowpea that naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil.

SHP has taught farmers about these methods via 130,000 demonstrations in 13 countries over the past five years. “The demos are on farmers’ land, school fields, churchyards or roadsides,” says Jama. “One plot might have little or no inputs, with a second plot showing the microdosing of fertiliser – very small amounts placed in the planting hole, along with manure – and another plot might have legumes where, in the next season, they can put sorghum where previously they had legumes.”

These methods have yielded results. In Ghana 117,000 participating farmers have seen maize yields increase from 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare. In Malawi, yields have risen from 2 to 4.6 tonnes.

Read the full article: The Guardian

Cyanothece 51142 : photosynthesis during the day and nitrogen fixation at night (Science Daily)

Read at :

Creating Plants That Make Their Own Fertilizer

Aug. 24, 2013 — Since the dawn of agriculture, people have exercised great ingenuity to pump more nitrogen into crop fields. Farmers have planted legumes and plowed the entire crop under, strewn night soil or manure on the fields, shipped in bat dung from islands in the Pacific or saltpeter from Chilean mines and plowed in glistening granules of synthetic fertilizer made in chemical plants.

No wonder biologist Himadri Pakrasi’s team is excited by the project they are undertaking. If they succeed, the chemical apparatus for nitrogen fixation will be miniaturized, automated and relocated within the plant so nitrogen is available when and where it is needed — and only then and there.


Who gets better with fertilizer distribution ? (IRIN News)

Read at :

KENYA: Fertilizer shortage could exacerbate food insecurity

NAIROBI, 29 March 2012 (IRIN) – Those Kenyan farmers who normally use fertilizer to boost yields could be forced to go without this season (March-May) unless the government moves quickly to boost supplies.

A senior government official told IRIN a complaint lodged by a major fertilizer supplier, and Finance Ministry funding delays, were to blame for the shortfall.

“One of the firms that had tendered last November to supply subsidized fertilizers lodged a complaint over the whole tendering process and this has delayed the distribution of what was already available. The Ministry of Finance did not release the required funds for purchase of more fertilizers and this too complicated the problems,” said Gideon Misoi, director of the National Cereals and Produce Board, the government agency charged with distribution of fertilizer.

Farmers’ representatives say the shortage of fertilizers in a planting season, should it persist, coupled with depressed long rains, could lead to low crop yields and in turn, exacerbate food insecurity.

“The rains will not be enough and we need to supplement this with fertilizers to get good yields. If the government cannot give us fertilizers in good time, then we will get very low yields and again you will start hearing the government begging for food from outside to feed people,” said Arbanus Jura, a farmer in western Kenya and a member of the Cereal Growers’ Association.

Some 3.7 million Kenyans are currently food insecure, according to UN agencies, and in 2011, the country experienced the highest malnutrition rates in nearly a decade. Another round of poor crop yields could push many more into food insecurity and poverty, experts say.

“When crops fail, it is not just farmers who make losses, but food prices go up beyond many people’s reach and you have people being pushed deeper into poverty. Poor crop yields severely disrupt people’s livelihoods,” Enoch Mwani, who teaches agriculture at the University of Nairobi, told IRIN.

Misoi said the government has already started distributing 60,000 tons of fertilizer to farmers across the country.



QUESTIONS (Willem Van Cotthem)

How long will fertilizer remain in the upper layer of the soil before it is almost totally leached ? 

What about food security after one or two years ?

Sustainable development ?


New York, Mar  9 2012  5:05PM

The United Nations food agency today called for $69.8 million in additional funding to prevent a full-blown food and nutrition crisis from unfolding in Africa’s Sahel region.

In a <““>news release, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that at least 15 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity in countries in the Sahel, including 5.4 million people in Niger, three million in Mali, 1.7 million in Burkina Faso and 3.6 million in Chad, as well as hundreds of thousands in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania.

“We need to act to prevent further deterioration of the food security situation and to avoid a full-scale food and nutrition crisis,” FAO’s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, said. “Part of the solution is to improve the access of farmers and herders to local markets, encourage the use of local products, and apply risk-reduction good practices to reinforce their resilience.”

According to FAO, some 790,000 farming and herding households in Sahel have been affected by droughts, sharp declines in cereal production and high grain prices, environmental degradation, and displacement, among other factors.

The total cereal production in the Sahel last year was, on average, 25 per cent lower than in 2010, but as much as 50 per cent lower in Chad and Mauritania, FAO reported. There were also increases in the number of displaced persons in the region, including a total of 63,000 internally displaced persons in Mali who fled from conflict in the country’s north, and more than 60,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries.

FAO’s strategy to address the issue will include providing food, agricultural items such as fertilizers and pesticides, and training to those who need it the most. It will also implement measures that protect the livelihoods of farmers and herders, such as helping them with the delivery of food crops and vegetable seeds for the planting season and supporting early-warning systems that allow them to better prepare for droughts.

“If we are to avoid yet another disaster, the humanitarian and livelihoods responses must be funded and applied on a scale that ensures protection of all vulnerable communities before they are forced to shed their assets,” Mr. Graziano da Silva said, stressing that regional and local leadership will be crucial for success.

Since 2010, $25.4 million has been allocated through FAO to the Sahel. An additional $75.4 million are required to support vulnerable households, but only $5.6 million have been mobilized leaving a funding gap of $69.8 million.
For more details go to UN News Centre at

Follow us on Facebook ( and Twitter (

%d bloggers like this: