African Soil Crisis Threatens Food Security
By admin December 6, 2014



Neglecting the health of Africa’s soil will lock the continent into a cycle of food insecurity for generations to come, a report has warned. The problem needs to be given a higher priority by aid donors. The report added that soil degradation was also hampering economic development, costing the continent’s farmers billions of dollars in lost income. The Montpellier Panel – made up of agricultural, trade and ecology experts from Europe and Africa – warned that land degradation reduced soil fertility, leading to lower crop yields and increased greenhouse gas emissions. “In Africa, the impacts are substantial where 65% of arable land, 30% of grazing land and 20% of forests are already damaged.


Healthy soils are the cornerstone of a healthy food system – and in no region of the world is the impact of depleted and undernourished soils being felt more acutely than in sub-Saharan Africa, where as much as 65% of arable land is degraded. The fact that 180 million people are relying on depleted soil to grow their food is a key reason why sub-Saharan Africa lags behind other developing regions in meeting its food security goals. The economic loss associated with land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at $68bn per year (£43bn).


Since sub-Saharan Africa’s farmers are on the frontline of a hotter, hungrier world, the potential of proper soil management should not be overlooked. One key recommendation from this report is to incentivize farmers to improve soil health, which could take the form of payment for ecosystem services, or strengthening farmers’ rights over the lands that they cultivate, encouraging them to make decisions that will have a positive impact over the long-term.


Professor Richard Akromah, Provost of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, has called for a stronger national response to the high rate of soil degradation. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates current farm yield in Africa at just about one-quarter of the global average, with one-third of Africans facing chronic hunger. The ceremony was for the first batch of scientists trained at the KNUST under the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Soil Health Program in Kumasi. The Program, which started three years ago, was funded by the Gates Foundation of the United States. It aims at equipping soil scientists with relevant knowledge and skills to lead efforts at improving soil fertility.


“The problem is certainly getting worse,” Sir Gordon Conway, director of the group Agriculture for Impact and a professor at Imperial College London, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Poor farmers don’t have the money, time or labor to prevent degradation or improve their soils,” Conway said. “If they don’t have land tenure, there is no incentive to invest in improving their farms.” Urging policymakers to commit to “zero net land degradation” the report calls for: better monitoring of African soil conditions through remote sensing systems, creating incentives for securing land rights for small farmers, strengthening collaboration between soil research centers in Africa and Europe, and increasing financial support for sustainable development.


The average African farmer produces about 1 ton of maize per hectare of land, compared with 2.5 tons in India and 11 tons in the U.S. Corn Belt, Conway said. If soils are better maintained in Africa, and farmers have the fertilizers and infrastructure they need, he believes each hectare of land could eventually produce 6 to 8 tons of maize. Experts said better soil management to increase food production is vital to avert starvation and strife in sub- Saharan Africa, where the population is expected to surge from 896 million in 2010 to more than two billion by 2050.

In addition, the UN has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. The year kicked off December 4th with events in Rome, New York and Santiago de Chile, in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource. In order to protect our soils, the promotion of sustainable soil and land management is central to ensuring a productive food system, improved rural livelihoods and a healthy environment. Specific objectives of the year include raising awareness among civil society and decision makers; educating the public; Supporting e­ffective policies and actions for the protection of soil resources; promoting investment in sustainable soil management activities; strengthening initiatives in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) process and Post-2015 agenda; and advocating for rapid capacity enhancement for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels.




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