A new $180 million dollar program aims to breath new life into more than four million small-scale farms in Africa. The five-year effort will restore nutrients to depleted soil.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – AGRA – says grossly depleted soil in sub-Saharan Africa is a major underlying cause of poverty and hunger.
“Africa is the world’s oldest continent and as a result its soils tend to be highly weathered and depleted of their nutrients in their natural state,” says Joe Devries, AGRA’s program director.
Devries says what’s needed is a concerted effort across the continent to restore fertility to soil so farmers can increase their harvests.
“The effect on farms is that farmers go out and they plant. They prepare their fields. They invest their sweat equity or their labor in producing a good crop, but the results are disappointing simply because the nutrients are not in the soil in order to produce an adequate harvest,” he says.
Adding to the problem is a growing population.
“[While] we’ve seen many cases where farm households continue to grow, farm size has been reduced. So a large farm over a period of several generations gets cut in several pieces and eventually the resources available to any given family are insufficient to make the investment to improve that soil fertility,” he says.
Nevertheless, Devries says that what’s been lost over the years can be restored.
“Put back soil organic matter. Get farmers to use better crop management practices, which increase the ability of the soil to absorb water when it rains, and as well to improve access to fertilizers,” says Devries.
Restoring soil fertility for millions of small-scale farms is not an overnight process, but initial results can be seen in a reasonable amount of time.
“Rebuilding Africa’s soil is going to take a number of years. But on any given farm, within one year, if they are able to increase their soil organic matter, get additional manures incorporated into the soil or add in a bit of fertilizer to that mix, we could see an effect within one year,” he says.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa says the program restores not only farms, but also families. With better harvests come higher standards of living and an overall boost for the continent’s economies as well.