Issue Pack: Soil fertility and climate change

| January 30, 2017

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As this week’s Farmer story from Uganda shows, infertile soil is a major issue. Our Script of the week talks about improving soil fertility in the face of the changing climate.

Soil fertility is declining in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change is expected to bring more extreme weather events such as flooding, drought, and more unpredictable weather. These changes will likely deepen problems with soil fertility.

Soil fertility is declining for a variety of reasons. Some common farming practices, including burning crop residues or leaving soil bare and unprotected from the sun and wind, are part of the problem. Excessive or insufficient use of fertilizers and improper crop rotations also lead to declining soil fertility.

But there are many traditional and modern practices that can help boost soil fertility, and assist farmers in making their farms more resilient and resistant to the changing climate. These include micro-dosing of fertilizer, using rather than burning crop residues and other organic matter; planting nitrogen-fixing crops and trees; making good use of compost and manure; and taking steps to prevent wind and water erosion.

A good soil fertility strategy for farmers is to make best use of all organic sources of plant nutrients. Organic sources of nutrients include legumes, green manures and cover crops, composts, and animal manures. It is also wise to use practices that conserve soil and water, and, when possible, to make careful use of small amounts of expensive inorganic fertilizers. Best practices will vary by region and will often build on local knowledge.

This issue pack begins with two true stories about farmers and soil fertility. It then offers some background information on soil fertility. Next, it suggests some starting points for creating locally relevant radio programs on the subject. Finally, it points to various resources on soil fertility—radio programs, documents, and organizations.