Notes to broadcasters: Soil health and fertility

    | January 27, 2014

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    Soil fertility, or lack of fertility, is an issue for all farmers. Much of a farmer’s effort is devoted to ensuring the soil has the nutrients it needs to produce crops. Soil fertility can be boosted both through traditional methods – such as mulching and fallowing – and newer methods such as applying chemical fertilizer.

    Farm Radio Weekly has covered this subject before. Farmers restore soil fertility to boost yields (Issue #217, September 2012) can be found here:

    A story from June, 2013 (Restoring land restores women’s dignity, FRW #250) tells of women who are involved in the process of bringing barren and unfertile soils back to productivity. You can read it at this link:

    An age-old practice to improve soil fertility is crop rotation, which often involves a fallow period designed to allow soils to recover naturally. You can read more about it here:

    Agricultural practices that improve soil fertility can help farmers address other common problems. 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 providing an additional crop.

    Notes to broadcasters on tied ridges and other soil and water conservation techniques (FRW #260, September 2013) may be useful for preparing a program or discussion on soil fertility. It is available here:

    Farm Radio International explored many aspects of soil health in a Resource Pack published in July 2010: The Issue pack attached to this Resource Pack contains background information on soil health, soil health practices, ideas for radio productions and further resources concerning soil health.

    You may wish to host a call-in show that invites farmers to discuss what 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 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 (, a plant with leaves that 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?