Nelly Bassily | September 17, 2012
Soil fertility, or lack of fertility, is an issue for all farmers. Much of a farmer’s effort is devoted to ensuring the land has the nutrients it needs to produce crops through both traditional methods – such as mulching and fallowing – and newer methods such as applying chemical fertilizer. As the Namibian farmers from this week’s story found out, neglecting soil fertility can result in poor harvests. But taking steps to improve soil fertility can dramatically improve production.
Agricultural practices that improve soil fertility can help farmers address other common problems as well. For example, mulching (spreading organic matter on the soil around plants) helps with water management by decreasing evaporation of moisture from the soil. And intercropping legumes (plants which take nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil) can help keep invasive weeds out of the field, while also providing an additional crop.
Farm Radio International explored many aspects of soil health in an Issue Pack published in July 2010:
http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/soil.asp (see scripts 91.1-91.9)
You may wish to host a call-in show inviting farmers to discuss methods they find most effective in boosting soil fertility.
-What materials (such as manure, crop residues, or chemical fertilizers) do they add to the soil on a regular basis to maintain or improve soil fertility?
-Can they describe any application techniques (for example, preparing compost from available materials, or microdosing chemical fertilizer) that they find particularly effective?
-What other methods (such as rotating crops, intercropping, or growing crops like Tithonia whose leaves increase soil fertility when incorporated into the soil or made into compost) have local farmers found helpful in improving or maintaining soil fertility?
-For each technique, what is the cost in terms of time and money, and what is the payoff in terms of increased production and value of crops produced?