Stories tagged: healthy soil for healthy life

Conserving Africa’s Precious Resource Base While Fighting Hunger

As part of our agroecology in action series, Kalongo Chitengi, Zambia Country Director, Self Help Africa speaks to Farm Africa about the importance of sustainable agriculture and responsible farming for preserving Africa’s environment and ecosystems.

Rosemary Chate’s seven children gather around the table inside their home in Malela, a village in Zambia’s remote Northern Province. They dig their spoons into bowls of food prepared by their mother – for the second time that day.

Not long ago, Rosemary Chate’s family would assemble to eat just once a day – their resources, for many months each year, were so thin that they needed to ration their food supplies to just a single family meal.

This is the reality for millions of African farmers like Rosemary. Many challenges are keeping yields on the continent low. Farmers lack access to inputs that farmers in developed countries have utilized for decades, from quality seeds and herbicides, to the right type of fertilizer for their undernourished soils. The hand hoe – even in this century – is still the main tool for smallholder families. Migration to urban areas and the impact of AIDS have left many rural homesteads with a labour shortage.

75% of Africa’s soil is degraded, costing African countries up to 10% of their GDP. Yet Africa has almost 50% of the world’s uncultivated land (Source: IFPRI)

Climate change has also emerged as another challenge, and rural families grapple with adaption. Changes in the climate have brought with them not only drought and flooding, but new plant diseases and insect attacks. The fall armyworm in sub-Saharan Africa has caused tremendous damage. This unpredictable reality has made crop management very difficult, and indigenous knowledge alone can no longer suffice.

African farmers need scientific innovation – from low to high tech – to face these challenges.

Testing vitally important to ensure that farmers are using the right tools and innovations to make sure soils are healthy (Credit: Georgina Smith/CIAT)

Yet preserving Africa’s environment, its most precious resources after its people, is also a high priority. This is one of the fundamental concerns of agroecology – ensuring farmers can produce food and earn a good living, while keeping the natural resource base intact.

With the right approaches that blend traditional knowledge with scientific innovation, this can be achieved.

At Self Help Africa, we are working with farmers to achieve this through the implementation of conservation agriculture. In Zambia alone, we have reached over 80,000 farmers  in the last five years.

Conservation farming involves a combination of approaches. First, farmers are encouraged to intercrop a variety of species, such as groundnuts, which can naturally fix nitrogen to the soil, and cassava, for example. This ensures maximum use of a piece of land that has been cleared – producing more food with less resources.

Crop rotation and mulching, along with an integrated use of mineral and organic fertilizers are also part conservation agriculture.

59-year old Felister Namfukwe has seen the benefits of this farming approach. Not only are her soils healthier, but her income is as well. With the help of her sons and her profits from groundnuts, she is building a new home made of brick, replacing her previous mud home.

“Being part of this (Self Help Africa) project has lightened my burden,” she told us.

We also work with local farmers to build their capacity to grow good quality seed, and to strengthen community based seed systems. Recycling seed is a common practice in Africa, when access to better seed is scarce. However, recycled seed loses its efficacy.

We are currently working with 300 seed growers across the country, who are multiplying seeds that are more able to cope with climate extremes, are higher yielding and more resistant to pests and disease.

In Zambia’s remote Western Province, the Kamasika Seed Growers Association illustrates how effective community-based seed multiplication is assisting local food production in the face of climate change.

The group received training and support in seed multiplication techniques from Self Help Africa and government advisors on the technical requirements for producing certifiable seed. The farmers were then linked to a new state-run seed testing laboratory, established with support from Self Help Africa in nearby Mongu town, to ensure that the seed being produced met the requisite germination, moisture content and other standards required to attain certification.

The group has since opened several retail shops where they sell farm inputs, including certified groundnut, bean, sorghum, maize and vegetable seed that they are producing, and supply to several thousand smallholder farmers across the Province.

African farmers are most at risk from rising temperatures and persistent hunger. We must ensure they have access to all the tools and technologies necessary to thrive in the face of these threats.

 Featured photo credit: WFO

Farming First #IYS2015 Twitter Chat “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life”

Friday 5th December 2014

10am EST / 3pm GMT

We will soon be entering International Year of Soils, and the soil we use to grow our crops will move to centre stage in the food security debate.

Land degradation currently affects nearly one-third of the earth’s land area. The impacts this has range from reduced soil fertility and lower crop yields to reduced soil carbon sequestration that would mitigate climate change, as well desertification and rural migration. Smallholder farmers in the developing world are impacted most heavily; in sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that 65 per cent of land is degraded, which is a major barrier to food production. Worldwide, the economic loss associated with land degradation is estimated to cost us USD 40 billion per year.

Healthy soils are the foundation of a productive food system, improved rural livelihoods and a healthy environment. When so many still go hungry – we must focus on protecting and restoring our soils.

How can we seize the opportunity this global event presents to sustain our soils?

Join our panel of experts for the Twitter Chat “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life” on Friday 5th December at 10am EST / 3pm GMT and tweet @farmingfirst with your questions, using the hashtag #AskFF

Expert Panel


Amit Roy, President, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) – @AmitRoyIFDC / @IFDCNews

Amit Roy has been the president and CEO of IFDC since 1992. Under his leadership, IFDC’s programs have broadened to help create sustainable agricultural productivity around the world, alleviating hunger and poverty and ensuring global food security, environmental protection and economic growth.  He was instrumental in organizing the Africa Fertilizer Summit in Nigeria; founded Virtual Fertilizer Research Center in Nigeria and co-leads the Global TraPs project.  


RICHARD MKANDAWIRERichard Mkandawire, Vice President, African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) – @R_Mkandawire / @AFAPPartnership

For eight years, Richard Mkandawire was part of the leadership that drove the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). CAADP began as part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty by growing agriculture. He is now the Vice President of AFAP, bringing decades of experience as a socio-economist and rural development expert to the organisation. 


MachteldMachteld Schoolenberg, YPARD Representative, Netherlands – @MachteldAnna / @YPARD

Machteld is a policy researcher with a Masters in International Land and Water Management and specialized in land degradation, rural development and sustainable land management practices. Machteld currently works as a policy researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). She mainly works in research projects on land degradation and restoration. But also contributes on projects about natural capital, land use innovations in the EU and social media strategies. 


Juliet Bjuliet_braslow1raslow, Soil Research Area Coordinator, Centro International de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) – @JulietBraslow / @CIAT_

Juliet holds a Masters in Horticulture & Agronomy and another in International Agricultural Development. Based in Nairobi, Kenya she has a diverse background of skills ranging from soil management and agricultural extension to international development. She is interested in interdisciplinary and participatory research in natural resource management and effective science communication, especially when it comes to communicating the importance of soil.  



Ronald Vargas, Soils Officer, Global Soil Partnership – @FAOKnowledge

Ronald is Soils Officer and Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership Secretariat at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations with strong focus on the survey, assessment and management of soil resources globally.