The relevance of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) for addressing soil fertility depletion and increasing crop productivity has been recognized in major development programs in Africa such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (www.agra.org). ISFM aims at integrating a set of soil fertility management practices of which the combined use of organic inputs and mineral fertilizer is pivotal. This is particularly important in sub Saharan Africa where soil fertility depletion has long been recognized as the major contributor to food insecurity. While mineral fertilizers are widely used globally to overcome nutrient deficiencies, their use remains very low in SSA with average application rates of 8 kg ha-1 yr-1, due to lack of purchasing capacity and scarcity of fertilizers in smallholder farming set up. Organic inputs have on the other hand, been used as major nutrient sources but their effectiveness in supplying nutrients to meet crop demands has been insufficient mainly because they are available in low quantities and are usually of low quality. Thus, the combined use organic inputs with fertilizers offers potential to increase crop yields associated with soil fertility improvement.
Heterogeneity in African farming landscapes can be high, where marked differences in soil fertility and nutrient balances often occur within a single farm. The variations can be driven by one or a combination of factors such as inherent soil properties, position on the landscape, farmer-induced differences in management of different fields, or by the resource endowment of the farmer managing the farm (e.g. access to cash for purchasing external inputs, access to irrigation, access to labour, access to knowledge etc.). Typically, there are striking differences in soil fertility status between fields that are close to the homestead and those that are further away, often called bush fields. The magnitude of within-farm soil fertility gradients is likely to vary according to biophysical and socio-economic environment. In view of the large within-farm soil fertility gradients, there is need to shift efforts towards fine-tuning recommendations for optimal utilization of the combinations of organic and mineral nutrient sources.
Furthermore, participation of women farmers in agricultural research programs remains low, yet they are responsible for more than 70% of the activities related to food crop production on the farm. On average, 25-60% of rural households in SSA are female headed, and these normally represent the poorest groups with limited access to resources such as land, information, technology, inputs, markets and credit. Consequently, for successful improvement of sustainable agricultural productivity in smallholder farming systems in SSA, research and development programs should necessarily include and specifically target female farmers. A major shift in traditional policies that tend to favor men over women is required to come up with strategies that include both men and women, aimed at reducing land degradation and improving soil health.
The office of the Coordinator is working with Farmer Based Organizations (FBOs), Non-Governmental Organizations, Private Sector, Agrodealers, Financial Institutions, the print and electronic media, Market Access, Policy makers, advanced research institutions and Research Scientist to improve soil health of the smallholder farmers’ field with the ultimate aim of improving crop productivity and sustain crop yields thereby improving the livelihood of the smallholder farmer. This is a new paradigm towards ensuring food security for all. Join us; as together we can end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in Africa.