Soil Health & Fertility
Why is transformation needed in this program area?
In many parts of Ethiopia, land degradation in the form of soil erosion, nutrient depletion, soil compaction, and increased salinization and acidity pose a serious threat to sustainable intensification and diversification of agricultural production systems. Moreover, prevailing soil management practices including over tillage and blanket fertilization are key factors in Ethiopian agriculture’s contribution to climate change. It is estimated by the World Bank that annually, 30,000 ha of agricultural land is lost due to topsoil erosion, and that the annual cost of land degradation is about 2-3% of agricultural GDP. Furthermore, the rate of soil loss due to water erosion is among the highest globally, averaging 30 to 42 tons/ha/year.1 In addition, Ethiopia has the highest level of salt affected soils in Africa,2 while the occurrence of highly weathered acid soils is two to three times higher than that of other East African countries.3
These trends undermine agricultural transformation in Ethiopia. However, they can be reversed in part by promoting increased adoption of appropriate soil management techniques and soil amendments by smallholder farmers as well as by restoring soil fertility through enhanced agronomic practices, improving the adoption of appropriate fertilizer use and other soil fertility augmenting technologies, such as conservation agriculture. Many countries that have successfully transformed their agriculture sector, and done so in a sustainable manner, have focused on the adoption of improved soil management techniques and other soil fertility enhancing technologies, with significant gains.
What are the objectives of this program area during GTP II?
The objectives of the program are three fold, to (1) Tackle key soil health constraints and replenish the fertility status of agricultural soils in Ethiopia, (2) Establish comprehensive soil resource information systems; build soil, fertilizer, plant and water related analytical and data interpretation capacity; and, promote optimal approaches to soil fertilization, and (3) Ensure increased collaboration among key partners in soil health and fertility including research, extension, universities and other government and non- government organizations.
It is expected that the achievement of these objectives would contribute to sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture.
What are the focus areas of this program?
In smallholder agriculture, large variations in nutrient balances and nutrient requirements often exist across small distances within a landscape. Hence farmers need actionable information matching their specific situation which requires a more targeted approach to enhance sustainable intensification of smallholder agriculture, particularly through the wider application of soil health and Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) principles. The program promotes a balanced fertilization program while building the national soil information system that is providing critical new baseline data for a nationwide soil resource database, as well as targeted field management recommendations. The components of balanced fertilization include soil amendments and the judicious use of chemical fertilizers based on deficient soil nutrients (as established by soil testing) in conjunction with other sources of plant nutrients such as organic manures and bio-fertilizers. Diagnostic and soil test calibration trials along with soil fertility maps contribute to spatially explicit, evidence-based fertilizer and soil management recommendations to help extension workers, policy makers, farmers, and others tailor agricultural practices to specific soil conditions. Trials are examining the factors in soil that may limit crop production, as well as agricultural practices such as ISFM. This not only helps farmers improve agricultural productivity, but will greatly increase the efficiency of resource use, ensuring that money is not lost on inappropriate fertilizer type. Importantly, as well, such trials will help scientists determine management recommendations for non-responsive soils.
In addition, program support is being provided for the development of controlled-release fertilizer technologies, precision agriculture technologies, and decision support tools at farm level to sense crop needs and improve fertilizer application. In the recent past and at present, there are considerable deficiencies in providing effective advisory services to farmers and in the interpretation of data, which are essential to the improvement of soil management practices, the refinement of fertilizer recommendations and fertilizer quality control. As such, improving access to soil testing services, through concept development, guidelines and standardization of analytical procedures, and enhancing capacity for data interpretation and related research programs are also among major focus area of the program.
1Mitiku, H., Herweg, K. and Stillhardt, B., “Sustainable Land Management – A New Approach to Soil and Water Conservation in Ethiopia,” 2006
2Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Soils Bulletin No. 39. Rome, 1988
3Sumner, M.E. and Noble A.D., “Soil Acidification: The World Story” In: Zdenko Rengel (ed.), Handbook of Soil Acidity, 2003