Soil experts call for sustainable solutions to address acidity crisis

Farmers should stop looking at soil as dirt. [Getty Images]

Scientists have warned of a pressing issue gripping African soils: erosion. They are urging governments to embrace holistic soil management solutions to combat this challenge sustainably.

Amid heavy downpours currently battering the country, soil nutrients are being washed away, raising concerns among experts. They stress that both too much and too little water levels spell trouble for soil health, hence the need for robust water retention strategies.

Axel Schmidt, a soil expert from Catholic Relief Services, has said that soil must be shielded from the ravages of climate change to preserve its health.

“We should look at the management of soils at landscape level. We can manage soils in a way that regulates the water cycle. We try to capture the water in a way that does not damage or wash away our soils, but infiltrates and is retained in the soil,” said Mr Schmidt.

Mr Schmidt was speaking on the sidelines of the 2nd Africa Fertilizer and Soil Summit in Nairobi. The conference is being hosted by the Government of Kenya in collaboration with the African Union.

The expert said that soil plays a vital role in regulating water cycles and preventing flooding.

“One of the most important aspects of soil management is keeping your soil covered all year long,” he advised.

Addressing the summit, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, who is currently facing a motion for impeachment stemming from the fake fertilizer scandal, said that traditional methods of soil fertility replenishment and minimal external input by smallholders have contributed to land degradation.

In his opening remarks, Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Musalia Mudavadi underscored the importance of fertilizers in boosting crop yields. He, however, warned that relying solely on fertilisers is insufficient to sustainably increase agricultural productivity.

The Cabinet Secretary also endorsed the goal of eradicating hunger and poverty through a sustainable approach to soil health, prudent utilization of agricultural inputs, environmental conservation, and the adoption of technologies to enhance the efficiency of production systems.

During the summit, soil experts and scientists warned that soil acidity is emerging as a major problem in Africa, with fertiliser alone not providing a solution. They urged African governments to embrace holistic soil management solutions to tackle this challenge sustainably.

Soil degradation

Soil scientist Ekwe Dossa from the International Fertilizer Development Center, underscored Africa’s struggle with soil degradation and fertility depletion, stressing the urgency of addressing these issues. He attributed the problem to smallholder farmers’ inadequate practices in soil fertility management, leading to a decline in soil nutrient replenishment.

“The solution to soil acidity is not fertiliser; fertiliser addresses nutrient depletion. But for acidity, we need specific amendments to correct it,” Mr Dossa said.

The climax of the summit will be the endorsement of a Nairobi Declaration, which will replace the Abuja Declaration that was signed in 2006 by African Union heads of state.

The Abuja Declaration aimed to enhance farmers’ access to fertilisers, with one major recommendation being the increase in fertiliser use from 8kg per acre to 50kg per acre within a decade. But nearly two decades later, current statistics reveal that fertiliser consumption stands at only 18kg per acre.

Dossa noted that while the goals of the Abuja Declaration have not been fully achieved, the current fertiliser consumption rate of 18 per cent represents progress.

“This is below the expectations of the Abuja Declaration, but there are steps moving forward. We encourage farmers to apply more fertiliser, not just in quantity but quality, as well as applying it in the right way,” he said.

Dossa said that proper application of fertiliser ensures soil health and allows it to sustain agricultural productivity.

He explained that healthy soil needs fertiliser, organic matter, acidity correction, erosion control, and sound agronomic practices to ensure the long-term productivity of the land. He reiterated that these aspects are being addressed during the summit.

Dossa also noted that while many governments in Africa have rolled out fertiliser subsidy programs for farmers, access and affordability remain a big challenge.

He said that farmers need to be organised into groups, learn how to save money, and take advantage of credit financing.

International Fund for Agricultural Development Senior Technical Specialist Nelida Ale said that regenerative agriculture and agroecology approaches are key elements in enhancing soil quality, thereby ensuring both food security and safety.

Ms Nelida said it was important to bridge the gap between research, innovation, and extension services to support smallholder farmers in soil management.

“Enhancing innovative approaches can enhance agricultural production sustainably while ensuring the quality of soil is maintained and improves nutrition quality,” she said.

Yara Country Manager for Kenya and Uganda William Ng’eno echoed the importance of integrated soil nutrients, balanced nutrition and crop-specific nutrient supply as the best initiatives farmers need to adopt.

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