January 13, 2009 / 6:35 PM / 10 years ago

Agronomists to map Africa's soils to increase crops

Farm workers are seen at a farm in Eikeihof outside Johannesburg September 30, 2008. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

NAIROBI (Reuters) - International agronomists plan to map different soil types across Africa to improve agricultural methods, increase harvests and help farmers earn a better living from their land, scientists said Tuesday.

The four-year project will combine on-the-ground soil sampling and remote satellite imagery to produce a detailed digital map of sub-Saharan Africa, the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) said.

“Soil management in sub-Saharan Africa must be improved dramatically if we are to reduce poverty, feed growing populations and cope with the impact of climate change on agriculture,” CIAT’s Nteranya Sanginga said in a statement ahead of the project’s launch in Nairobi.

“Achieving this requires accurate, up-to-date information on the state of Africa’s soils,” Sanginga said.

The new African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) will assess the mineral and organic nutrients in soils in different areas, providing a base for farmers or agricultural experts advising them to assess how best to use fertilizers or rotate crops.

African soils are among the most depleted on earth, contributing to slow agricultural growth in recent decades, with African farmers able to use on average just 10 percent of the fertilizer used by their counterparts worldwide, CIAT said.

“Soil degradation represents a major obstacle to arresting hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, because it impedes much-needed increases in agricultural productivity,” CIAT said in a paper detailing the program.

The program will eventually become part of a worldwide scheme called GlobalSoilMap.net, it said.

Writing by Alistair Thomson

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