Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Investing in Africa's soil health

A new "soil map" has been launched to help stabilize food security in Africa. A digital map that shows the health of Africa's soil started in Nairobi today.

Scientists hope the map can show where soil needs more nutrients to help small farmers. If the map can show that a certain area in Africa is missing something, aid organizations will effectively be able to help that area's farmers.

This is important because anything that can boost the yields of farmers can provide more food. Especially the small farmers in the undeveloped world that are just trying to feed their family. The importance of this type of project was magnified with the food crisis of last summer and the riots staged around the world because of the hunger it caused.

IRIN News service was at the launch of the project. A link to the soil map's website is right here.

Undertaken by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the "first ever" detailed digital map for 42 countries combines the latest soil science and technology with remote satellite imagery and on-the-ground efforts to develop an online map.

According to CIAT, this digital map of the continent's depleted soils will offer insights crucial for boosting food production. It will help provide solutions for poor farmers who suffer from chronically low-yielding crops due to degraded soils.

Wycliffe Oparanya, Kenya's Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, who launched the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi, said the soil map would provide scientists and policy-makers with more detailed and accurate information on soil fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"There has been an effort to develop high-yielding varieties of crops but the fact that soil fertility has remained low across many countries in Africa, [means] we have not been able to harness the benefits of the improved crops to capacity," he said. "Therefore, investing in soil health is a key concern that we must all address ourselves … to achieve food security for our people."

He said the food crisis facing many countries had become a global phenomenon that posed a new threat to the stability of the social framework and to the prosperity of all nations, "especially the small nations”.

Oparanya said: “Throughout the world, more and more people are unable to find food. There are increased cases of food riots, which in turn lead to political instability. This means that all nations must increase and sustain the production of staple food crops such as wheat, rice, maize, millet and potatoes, among others.”

CIAT is establishing the African Soil Information Service through a four-year US$18 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The digital map ultimately will be developed as part of a global soil mapping initiative, known as GlobalSoilMap.net

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