Soil mapping in sub-Saharan Africa for better use of fertilisers, improving food security

UN's FAO to digitally map soil nutrients in central American countries too

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 01 August 2022

A United Nations project is digitally mapping soil nutrients in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and central America to increase efficiency in using fertilisers. 

The project is being carried out by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — a specialised agency under the UN that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security. 

The project has been fast-tracked and will organise and improve existing soil maps in Guatemala and Honduras, as well as other countries in central America and SSA. 

FAO is already supporting the scale-up of a soil-mapping project in EthiopiaThe project received a $20 million contribution from the United States.  

Read more: Sustainable Development Goal 15: World off track on protecting life on land, finds UN report

The Ethiopian project used digital soil nutrient mapping technologies to generate timely information on how to optimise fertiliser use. It has already increased the yield and availability of high-quality grains in the country.

The project recently received a $20 million contribution from the United States. The contribution will allow FAO to scale up the use of soil mapping in regions where it is most needed, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

“We see a decline in fertiliser use due to price hikes. By understanding what nutrients our soils and crops need, we will reduce waste when applying fertilisers and increase their effectiveness,” Dongyu said. 

Fostering the creation of national soil databases and soil information systems as public goods to be used by policymakers, the private sector and especially farmers can generate long-term benefits.

It can improve short-term flexibility to adapt to trends in fertiliser markets and climate dynamics without compromising output.

One in five people in Africa (20.2 per cent of the population) was facing hunger in 2021

The largest increase in moderate or severe food insecurity between 2020 and 2021 was seen in Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa, Middle Africa is the sub-region facing the highest levels of food insecurity.

FAO said it was committed to enhancing soil fertility and is hosting a virtual global symposium on Soils for Nutrition, called Soils, where food begins, with Global Soil Partnership (GSP).

GSP is a globally recognised mechanism to promote sustainable soil management.

Unsustainable agricultural practices, lack of resources and capacity development and nutrient underuse in SSA have resulted in significant soil nutrient depletion, low crop yields, and poverty, leaving many farm families in a scenario of vulnerability and food insecurity.

Many African countries lack policies regulating soil as well as the capacity, knowledge and experience to plan and implement sustainable soil management programmes. 

As a matter of fact, Africa’s Total Factor Productivity growth, especially in the sub-Sahara region, does not match up to the growth of other developing regions.

Total factor productivity growth is the difference between the growth of output and the growth of a combination of all factor inputs, usually labour and capital.

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