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Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa commits 180M to revive farmers' depleted soils

Nairobi, Kenya (25 January 2008) Determined to revive the grossly depleted soils of sub-Saharan Africa, which are a major underlying cause of poverty and hunger, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) today announced a US$180 million five-year program to restore the fertility of Africas soils.

AGRAs Soil Health Program will breathe new life into soils where rapid nutrient loss is sapping the ability of farmlands to sustain crops, said Dr. Namanga Ngongi, President of AGRA. This will improve the sustainability of small-scale farms, raise the yield and income of poor farmers, most of whom are women, and help protect the natural resource base of soil and water.

The program aims to work with 4.1 million farmers and regenerate 6.3 million hectares of farm land through a balanced approach to improved soil management. Initial funding for the Program comes from a US$164.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$15 million from the Rockefeller Foundation.

African governments are leading the way on efforts to solve the major food challenges facing the continent, Ngongi said. Their plan, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), sets out a bold target for achieving 6 percent annual growth rates in agriculture. Addressing the serious soil fertility problems facing African farmers is critical to obtaining this goal.

Improving soil health also is a fundamental element of AGRAs commitment to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families overcome poverty by working across the agricultural value chain to boost farm yield and incomes. The Soil Health Program is one part of a comprehensive approach that addresses issues from seeds and water to markets, agricultural education, and policy.

In particular, soil regeneration will complement AGRAs Seeds Program and help small-scale farmers make full use of new high-yielding varieties of Africas staple food crops.

Currently, farm yield in Africa is one-quarter the global average, and one-third of Africans face chronic hunger. We know that the use of high quality seeds, combined with the rejuvenation of African soils, can begin to turn around this dismal situation, Ngongi said.

This initiative by AGRA is timely and will help to greatly advance Africas efforts to solve its soil fertility challenges says Dr. Richard Mkandawire, Agriculture Advisor for NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africas Development.

Balanced Approach to Restoring Soil Fertility

AGRAs Soil Health Program will foster widespread adoption of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). The ISFM strategy involves assessing local soil and water resources and considering how organic matter, fertilizers, farmer cropping systems, and farmer knowledge can work in concert to create highly productive and environmentally sustainable approaches to soil revitalization.

The Soil Health Program was developed not only to boost the yield and incomes of small-scale farmers, but also to care for the soil in ways that conserve the environment, said Dr. Akin Adesina, Vice President for Policy and Partnerships at AGRA.

The methods adopted by farmers will vary according to the nutritional needs of their crops and the deficiencies of their soils. For example, in some cases, soil health will best be improved with increased use of organic matter derived from crop residues, manure, or crop rotation with legumes that can increase the availability of soil nitrogen. In other cases, the restoration of severely depleted soils may require that farmers apply carefully formulated fertilizers, often in combination with organic matter.

Africas agro-ecologies are diverse and farmers practices differ widely across regions. No one size can fit all. We will work with farmers and researchers to develop locally-adaptable soil fertility interventions, Adesina said.

AGRA will give special attention to women farmers, who form the vast majority of small- scale farmers in Africa and who, as a result, have considerable knowledge of how various crops are faring in local soils.

Within the context of Integrated Soil Fertility Management, AGRAs Soil Health Program will also work to improve farmers access to appropriate and affordable fertilizers, as well as to the knowledge needed for their efficient and environmentally sound use.

Today, fertilizers in Africa are far more expensive than the global average, and rarely available to farmers in remote areas. As a result, African farmers use only a tenth as much fertilizer as the global average. In 2006, the problem prompted African leaders to convene an Africa Fertilizer Summit. It endorsed efforts to improve fertilizer access on small-scale farms, such as promoting locally-adapted fertilizer manufacturing; establishing financing mechanisms for fertilizer procurement; and eliminating taxes and tariffs on fertilizers.

Maintaining soil health has become a constant challenge for African farmers. Africa is the worlds oldest continent and its ancient soils have been weathered for millennia. In recent decades, unsustainable land practices have accelerated the depletion of this vital natural resource. Continuous cultivation of land, without replacing the soil nutrients taken up by crops, has sapped the soil of nutrients. Moreover, degraded soils are prone to erosion and unable to retain precious water. Loss of organic matter that gives soil structure has been accompanied by loss of nutrients. And, as soils get more depleted, farmers are more likely to clear forests and savannah in the search for arable lands.

AGRAs goal of enabling small-scale farmers to produce more on less land will have multiple social, economic, and environmental benefits. It can reduce the pressure to clear new land for agriculture, which in turn can assist in countering deforestation, conserving biodiversity, and triggering improved management of Africas wealth of natural and nature-based assets, said Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, an AGRA Soil Health Program partner.

In addition to working directly to restore soil fertility, AGRAs Soil Health Program will encourage the development of policies that support soil health and protect Africas endowment of natural resources. The Program will work to strengthen the capacity of African institutions to improve the information, education and training offered to farmers, extension workers, students and scientists on a range of issues related to soil health.

To ensure that the Program is working as effectively as possible, AGRA will monitor its impacts, including its economic and environmental impacts, and regularly consult with its partners in governments, regional organizations (like the New Partnership for Africas Development or NEPAD), environmental agencies, civil society organizations, and farmers and farmer organizations, according to Ngongi.

This program gives us renewed hope because with improved soils and seeds, we will boost our yields and therefore feed ourselves and use the surplus to improve our income and living conditions. We welcome this initiative by AGRA, said Kenyan farmer Philip Kiriro.


Contact: Preeti Singh
301-652-1558, ext. 5722
Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa

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