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Arresting Hunger and Environmental Degradation
in Sub-Saharan Africa: Developing a Dynamic and Globally
Integrated African Soil Information Service (AfSIS)
Peter Okoth, Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute (CIAT-TSBF) | ICRAF Complex, UN Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi P.O. Box 30677-00100 | Nairobi, Kenya | Tel: 254-20-7224775
Foreseen Impact • To contribute to increase
to increased crop yields for
• Provide an accurate and approximately 1 to 2 million
spatially explicit soil database poor African households
for 42 African countries to guide • To build African institutions
policy and action to enhance to be able to map,
Africa’s soil productivity disseminate and use soils
• Contribute to the reversal of soil information to plan natural An Information Solution The Global Framework
degradation in Africa through resource management in
The AfSIS maps are being developed from a non-
tested soil fertility management their countries targeted by traditional method where 60 continental sampling
ASIS will be developed within the framework of a
Global Digital Soil Map Consortium, which will be
recommendations AfSIS sites have been randomly selected to cover the entire formed and led by ISRIC. ASIS will thus catalyze
Sub-Saharan Africa countries for sound statistical and form part of a wider initiative to digitally map
data collection and modeling of the soil properties some 80 percent of the world’s soil resources.
across the continent where soils samples may not
have been collected. The method offers an objective One of the first key tasks will be to establish a set
The Sahelian Drylands method of mapping soils and modeling their of common standards for storing, documenting and
Area: 1.2 million km2 properties that provides an opportunity for scientific distributing soil data. Among other tasks, experts
Population: 38 million validation and monitoring in a surveillance system. will be to develop norms for consistently evaluating
Millet & sorghum belt: 23 million ha
key soil properties, such as its capacity to provide
The main difference between the approach proposed nutrients and hold water.
Mali here and those used in the past is the use of surveillance
Nigeria concepts similar to those used in the public health
sector. We consider soils to be healthy when they Building a Cyber-Infrastructure
are capable of delivering essential provisioning,
Humid Forest Zone Kenya Moist Savanna and
regulating and supporting ecosystem services (as
Area: 5.8 million km2 Woodland Zones Another major step will be to develop the data
Area: 4.4 million km2 defined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) on
Population: 168 million management systems required to make ASIS (and
Population: 157 million a sustained basis. We define soil health surveillance
Cassava belt: 18 million ha Tanzania eventually the global service) available via the
Maize belt: 32 million ha as: the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis,
NERICA potential: 2 million ha Internet.
CA potential: 7 million ha and interpretation of data essential to planning,
Malawi implementation, and evaluation of soil management
N One especially useful source of data will be that
policy and practice, which is closely integrated with
W E gathered through infrared spectroscopy, using
the timely dissemination and application of data that
S procedures developed by the World Agroforestry
is used for prevention and control of soil degradation.
0 1000 2000 Center. Based on the interaction of electromagnetic
kilometers energy with matter, this technology has proved to be
AfSIS Sentinel Sampling a quite reliable and cost-effective means of rapidly
determining soil health.
• ~17.5 million km2 of
Our aim: degradation prevention, productivity continental SSA
• ~0.6 million km2 of With such data, the project can then engage actively
increase & restoration
• Spatially stratified random in digital soil mapping. This is the creation of spatially
sampling approach consisting referenced information (that is, information linked
of 60 sites Each 100 km2
• 42 countries with 95% of
to a specific pixel on a satellite image) about soil
human population properties, based on statistical sampling of soils
• ~9,600 new geo-referenced
across particular landscapes. The resulting high-
• 38,000 individual soil resolution maps will cover some 18 million square
samples kilometers in Africa, representing geographically
both soil capacities and constraints (like aluminum
toxicity, a common debilitating feature of acid soils,
Management recommendations which are widespread in the tropics). Much of the
power of these maps lies in their ability, based on
The gradual spread of improved crop varieties computer models, to predict soil degradation at
across Africa has opened up new possibilities for locations where direct observations of soil properties
accelerating agricultural productivity growth. But as may not have been made. The maps will thus be
long as soil fertility remains low, small farmers will highly useful for planning, implementing and
derive only partial benefits from the new varieties, evaluating efforts to enhance soil management and
and they will have weak incentives to improve their for targeting such efforts to particular places.
management of another critical resource – water.
In recent years, soil scientists in Africa have developed
Partnerships and outreach
and validated a new approach for improving soil
AfSIS is being implemented through a grant provided
health, which is referred to as integrated soil fertility
by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the
management (ISFM). It involves the practical
Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa to the
combination of inorganic fertilizers with organic
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
inputs to raise agricultural production while
Introduction: Africa’s Soil Health Crisis enhancing natural resources. ISFM considers not just
The implementation is being coordinated by the
Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility (TSBF) institute of
the technical aspects of soil management, but also
CIAT based in Nairobi. Partners in the project include
Soil degradation represents a major obstacle to arresting hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, because it impedes its economic, social and policy dimensions. About
the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the World
much-needed increases in agricultural productivity. About 500 million hectares of sub-Saharan Africa’s 100 trials will be conducted in sites targeting across
Soil Information (ISRIC) at Wageningen University
agricultural land are moderately or severely degraded. The problem is rapidly getting worse because Africa agro-ecological variations from the Sahelian
in The Netherlands and the Nairobi-based World
of increasing pressure on the land – a result of growing populations and food demand, combined with Drylands of West Africa, The Sudano-Sahelian Zone
Agroforestry Center. AfSIS will work in partnership
extremely low use of inorganic fertilizers and of organic sources of plant nutrients. On average, African also of Western Africa, through the Humid Forest
with national agricultural research programs across
farmers are able to apply only 10 percent of the nutrients that farmers in the rest of the world return to the Zones of Central Africa all the way to the Moist
Africa, including the establishment of regional soil
soil. That helps explain why soils in southwestern Kenya, for example, lose an estimated 100 kilograms Savanna’s and Woodland Zones of Eastern Africa.
health laboratories in Tanzania, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria,
of nitrogen per hectare each year. and Malawi.
The yield gap and the limitations that cause it
Literature has it that Africa’s soils are among the poorest in the world. It is also documented that fifty-five Potential - Soil fertility An aggressive program of dissemination and capacity
percent of the land in Africa is unsuitable for any kind of cultivated agriculture except nomadic grazing. yield
- Variety, etc strengthening will ensure that AfSIS is readily available
While about 30% of the population (or about 250 million) live in or depend on deserts (including salt (Experimentation) Yield
gap Socio economic and to diverse users, ranging from farmer associations
flats, dunes and rock lands as well as steep to very steep lands) for survival. It is estimated that the Actual
- Knowledge and extension services to research institutes and
continent loses the equivalent of over $4 billion worth of soil nutrients each year, severely limiting its yield - Availability policy makers.
ability to feed itself. Which inputs are lacking?
Why inputs are not used?
Across the continent, farmers face a variety of constraints, including low productivity, limited access to
new agricultural technologies and weak markets. Without adequate inputs, farmers often cannot meet A Globally Integrated African Soil Information Service (AfSIS): Donors and Partners
the food needs of their own families, much less those of a rapidly growing population. To feed themselves
and their countries, farmers will need to shift from low-yielding, extensive land-use practices to more
intensive, higher yielding practices, with increased use of improved seeds, fertilizers and irrigation.
Currently, majority of the smallholder farmers in Africa neither have access to nor can afford the fertilizers
or other inputs needed to add life to their soils. In Africa, use of fertilizer averages only eight kilograms
per hectare, which is just 10% of the world average per hectare. No region of the world has been able
to expand agricultural growth rates, and thus tackle hunger, without increasing fertilizer use.