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Focus on . . . Soil: securing the future

Soil appears an inert, passive material. It is everywhere: we walk on it, plant crops on it, bulldoze it aside for construction. It appears limitless. In short, we take soil for granted, using it, abusing it and, when it fails to deliver what we expect from it, it is abandoned and we turn to fresh sources. Yet one authority has referred to declining soil fertility in Africa as 'a time-bomb waiting to explode.' This is because soil and the fertility that it contains, is a vital part of the human food-chain. Soil cannot be mined of nutrients and abandoned with impunity; declining soil fertility is a major and increasing obstacle to maintaining, not to say increasing, agricultural productivity.

The situation is particularly serious in Africa but also in many other parts of the world. Yet, expensive operations to engineer soil conservation works, and costly mineral fertilizers to provide crop nutrients are not the answers - farmers need low cost and home grown solutions. In New Agriculturist 00-1 Points of View we featured some opinions on finding and applying appropriate solutions; in Focus on Soil: securing the future in this issue we return to the subject with updated reports from around the world on simple technologies that have been shown to restore degraded soils and to protect and feed soils on a sustainable basis.


Declining soil fertility, a time bomb

Declining soil fertility has long been recognised as a major obstacle to sustaining current levels of agricultural production in Africa. Indeed, as fertility declines in the face of rising population and disabling policies, there is the near certainty of exponential deterioration in fertility and decline in yields. Unfortunately, soil fertility research...

Giving ploughs the push

A man stands with a watering can, holding it as high as he can. While still able to tip it up, he pours water on to two open boxes, one containing bare soil, and the other where soil is...

Green manure - Slow on the uptake?

The benefits of increased organic matter for soil health and crop production are widely recognised but extension programmes designed to introduce green manures have had very mixed success. In some areas farmers...

Raised fields raise yields

For thousands of years the area around Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru, has been home to civilizations which have prospered and then disappeared.

Address causes not symptoms

Soil conservation must address the causes and not just the symptoms of water run-off and erosion. This is the opinion of the senior land husbandry advisor to...

Legumes and livelihoods

In the semi-arid northern communal areas of Namibia, pearl millet is the staple cereal. However, phosphorus and nitrogen are known to be limiting in cultivated soils in the region and, with declining soil fertility as a result of ...

Home cure for soil sickness?

Climate change and rising temperature combined with declining soil fertility bode ill for agriculture and food production in many parts of the tropics, not least in sub-Saharan Africa. The prevalence of hunger in many parts of Africa is directly attributable to...

The magic of mucuna bean

Scientific wisdom has it that soils are created only over geological time periods. But farmers with degraded soils in Guatemala and Honduras who can't wait that long, have discovered that the mucuna...

GM crops- part of the solution for soils?

It's well known that sub-Saharan Africa has some of the oldest and poorest soils in the world. Thousands of years of weathering have leached the nutrients, leaving the soil highly acidic...

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