Stories tagged: fertilizers

Solutions to Climate Change’s Impact on Soil Health

Micael Beun and Wilson Leonardo, IFDC project leads in Burundi and Mozambique, outline on-the-ground solutions for helping African smallholders adapt to climate change and improve soil health.

As climate change threatens agriculture and food systems around the world, its effects reach down to the ground beneath our feet. Soil health across Central and Southern Africa could suffer greatly from the increasing number of extreme climatic events – as sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In two countries in which IFDC works, Mozambique and Burundi, the effects of climate change on soil health can be seen as severe weather events have impacted farmers and their ability to produce crops. On-the-ground activities have enabled IFDC staff to not only observe the effects but formulate solutions to safeguard farmers and mitigate losses.

Creating climate resilience in Mozambique

In Mozambique, the Idai (2019) and Eloise (2021) cyclones resulted in severe flooding, particularly in the Buzi Basin – a cropland-abundant and relatively flat region of the country. The immediate effects of widespread crop loss were exacerbated by salinization of soils due to floodwater.

In its Embassy of Sweden-funded Transfer Efficient Agricultural Technologies through Market Systems (TEAMS) project, IFDC and partners take a two-pronged approach to increasing soil health: Assisting farmers with agricultural intensification combined with extensification to help them rebuild their soils and increase production. Intensifying production through crop rotation, intercropping, and judiciously applying site-specific fertilisers, and extensifying by decreasing input levels on larger areas of land, together mitigate soil nutrient depletion while allowing soils to recover and store organic matter.

Castigo and Helena stand in their rice field after Cyclone Idai. Photo credit: IFDC

Castigo and Helena, two smallholder beneficiaries of the program, applied the recommended climate-smart practices after the Idai floods. Because of this, they could harvest some of their rice for household use, and also save seeds from their plants for the following planting season. Though the loss was still great to these farmers, they demonstrate that climate resilience at a smallholder level is possible.

Building better farming systems in Burundi

In Burundi, heavy rainfall has led to the erosion of fertile soils and leaching of plant nutrients. A common trend seen in Burundi, as well as Mozambique, is the acidification of soils and the depletion of organic matter. In contrast to the approaches taken in the predominantly flat farmland in the Buzi Basin in Mozambique, farmland in Burundi is typified by high population pressure and steeply sloped topography. As such, the approach to improving soil health also differs.

Calinie and Théophile improved their livelihood by improving their soil. Photo credit: IFDC

Like many Burundian farmers, Calinie and Théophile had been farming without improved seed, fertilisers, or farming practices, and limited access to markets. Their farm was not very productive, agriculturally or financially, with their small, steep plots suffering from erosion season after season. But things started to turn around with their family improvement plan involving natural resource management, division of labor, and family nutrition.

Through the Dutch-funded Soil Fertility Stewardship Project (PAGRIS), IFDC and partners help producer families at farm level and communities at watershed level to develop three-year holistic plans to reduce soil erosion and restore soil fertility. Anti-erosion measures such as reforestation, mulching, and contour plowing reduce landscape vulnerability to erosion. To boost productivity and minimize soil nutrient depletion, intercropping and climate-smart cropping techniques are employed. By increasing biomass production at the farm-level, producers can maintain and restore organic matter in soils. IFDC furthermore supports Burundian farmers to access and apply mineral fertilisers and soil amendments through a comprehensive national fertiliser subsidy scheme.

Now, Calinie and Théophile see their farm’s productivity progressively increase, and they take justifiable pride in the results. As part of their plan, they commit to manage their family resources and income in a way that betters the family’s livelihood. The new income is invested in nutritious food, improved housing, schooling for children, and improved inputs.

Integrated Soil Fertility Management

IFDC’s recommended immediate responses to acute and chronic climate crises are embedded into Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). ISFM is a set of practices, adapted to local conditions, to improve soil quality, and nutrient and water use efficiency, resulting in improved crop productivity. The approach focuses on holistic soil health and includes smart and sustainable application of mineral fertilisers in combination with amendments such as dolomite and organic fertilisers when possible.

The long-term response recommendation is to rebuild local household biomass production such that farmers can reinvigorate the organic matter to increase soil resilience by increasing its capacity to retain nutrients. Climate crises negatively affect farm household biomass production from livestock as birds and animals are lost or displaced. In the long-term, IFDC will support farmers to build biomass production and access amendments to ensure that farmers apply all critical elements to their soils.

While food system complexity varies from region to region, and involves many actors, sustainable food systems are founded on healthy soils. Strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of those who care for our soils must become a hallmark of all food systems programs ­– for the good of our farming families and the survival of us all.

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Esin Mete: Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health

Below is an excerpt from an article by Ms Esin Mete, President of the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), which discusses the potential of fertilizers biofortified with key micronutrients, such as zinc, iodine and selenium to improve crop yields and resilience, while also making these micronutrients more available to humans when we eat them. Read the full article by visiting the Global Food Security blog.

Improved nutrition not only extends and improves people’s quality of lives but also plays a significant role in boosting their productivity and sustaining a healthy economy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that malnutrition alone costs the global economy around $3.5 trillion dollars each year (around 5% of global GDP) due to lost productivity and healthcare costs.

micronutrient deficiency

One way my sector can help is to better understand the potential roles that fertilizers can play to tackle hunger and malnutrition. Evidence shows micronutrient fortification of fertilizers – that’s adding selenium, zinc or iodine to the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium usually present – can offer promising results, and not only in the developing world but in the developed world as well.

In my home country of Turkey, a zinc fertilization programme on wheat in the Central Anatolian region resulted in as much as a 500% increase in crop yield, lifting economic returns by around $150M per year). The application of zinc fertilizers in Turkey also led to the eradication of zinc deficiency among local people. Since crops were able to absorb zinc from the soil, they also had more bioavailability of zinc for the humans who consumed them.

zinc deficiency

The complexity of the challenge we face demands a coordinated effort. Micronutrient fertilization is not the only solution, but in my view it does offer a simple, cost-effective and sustainable way for improving food and nutrition security.

Read the full article by visiting the Global Food Security blog. Download the scientific review on which this article is based, “Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health“. 

Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol

At the Hague conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, Farming First held a side event ‘Best practices in agricultural value chains’, where spokespeople presented examples of initiatives that aim to increase resilience and productivity at different points in the value chain.



Clyde Graham from the Canadian Fertilizer Institute introduced the Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol (NERP), which helps reduce on-farm emissions of nitrous oxide in a quantifiable and verifiable way that allows farmers to earn carbon credits. It has been approved in the Canadian provine of Alberta – the first jurisdiction of North America to actively regulate greenhouse gas emissions and establish a regulatory carbon trading market.

NERP is based on applying fertilizer using Best Management Practices on the 4R nutrient stewardship system: Right source, @Right rate, Right time, Right place.

The scheme has shown a 15-25% reduction in nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer application, and has also managed the risk of nitrate accumulation in soils. NERP meets the high production, intensified, resilient, sustainable and low-emission criteria of the FAO description of climate-smart agriculture. In the future, NERP could be adapted to be an eco-level and become an internationally recognised standard.

To read more, see the presentation.

Nominations Open for the IFA Norman Borlaug Award 2011

The IFA Norman Borlaug Award, in recognition of achievement in crop nutrition work, has been opened for nominations for the 2011 awards.

The award is offered every year by the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) to an individual for work that has led to significant progress in crop nutrition and that has been communicated successfully to farmers.

The IFA Award alternates on a 4-year cycle, celebrating both research and knowledge transfer successes in both developed and developing countries.

This year’s prize will be awarded for research in developed countries and in international agricultural research and development centres. Any individual involved in crop or soil science is eligible to apply. The recipient of the IFA Norman Borlaug Award will receive 10,000 euros and will be invited as a guest to the IFA Annual Conference to be held form 23 to 25 May 2011 in Montreal, Canada.

The award is named after Dr Norman Borlaug who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contribution to fighting hunger around the world.

Please visit the IFA’s webpage for further details about the nomination procedure.

Walking on Water: Low-cost Treadle Pumps Help Indian Farmers

The Gates Foundation has provided this video to show how one of their grantees’ low-cost treadle pumps are helping Indian farmers access irrigated water for their crops.

These water pumps are supplied by International Development Enterprises (IDE).  They are designed to be cost-effective and low-maintenance, with only one part needed to be changed each year at a cost of 20 U.S. cents. Farmers simply dig a bore hole, insert a plastic tube into the hole and then connect the pump to this tube.  Farmers then operate the pump using their leg muscles, and they can even pump extra water into adjacent reservoirs for on-going regulated use.

Only one in three farmers currently has access to irrigation in India.  Accessing this technology helps smallholder farmers make more long-term investments, such as improved seeds and fertilizers, for their fields.  Farmers might even be able to begin growing more lucrative cash crops such as fruits or vegetables.

In an innovative promotional campaign, IDE shares this knowledge with farmers by bringing movie screens into rural communities in the back of a van.  Farmers are incentivised to watch a short presentation about the treadle water pumps by the promise of a free movie feature which is aired after the presentation finishes.