Experts, Activists Debate How to Improve Africa’s Soil

As experts gather in The Hague this week for a Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, a major issue concerning Africa is the importance of the continent’s soil.

Experts differ on the best ways to turn often parched and depleted land into fertile ground. But there is general agreement that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The director of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment program at Columbia University, Pedro Sanchez,
says, it seems obvious now, but, until recently, soil was not considered a priority.

“In Africa, really, nobody was paying attention about this 10 years ago. Everybody thought that other problems were more overwhelming, problems of corruption, governance, land tenure and then technically, agronomically, the need for improved [plant] varieties,” he said.

Sanchez sees the use of fertilizers as essential to replenishing soils. “The best way to do that is to start applying nitrogen fertilizers and phosphorous fertilizers in the places that are deficient in this element, and out of that, then, you begin to triple yields of crops, such as maize, or sorghum or cassava,” he said.

Shannon Horst is a co-founder of the U.S-based Savory Institute, a non-governmental organization that works to restore grasslands and biodiversity around the world. She believes still too much emphasis is being placed on short term production goals and technological solutions.

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