Breaking new ground – mapping soil in Africa

30 July, 2013 by (comments)

In 2009, a group of scientists in Africa embarked on the Africa Soil Information System (AfSIS) project. Their goal: to fill a gap that has hampered scientific progress and agricultural and economic development in Africa for years – detailed information about African soils.

Map generated from the AfSIS diagnostic trials database showing

Four years, more than 350 partners and 17,000 soil samples later, they’ve done just that – and their achievements have been collected on a new one-stop website. Their painstaking work has brought soil science into the digital age resulting in high quality, detailed digital soil maps and data for sub-Saharan Africa that will help develop site-specific recommendations for improving soil fertility and boosting food production. The data can also be used to monitor soil degradation and land erosion over time.

Through this – quite literally ground-breaking – work, soil information for Africa has advanced more in the last four years than in the previous 50. Where recommendations about which fertiliser to use and crops to plant were once based on data collected from a variety of sources, of differing quality, and using different methods and languages, the new digital soil maps and associated databases can be used to directly target land management decisions. And, as more researchers adopt the new standards set by AfSIS and add their results to the data, the more accurate land management recommendations will become.

The research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and led by International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), will help increase the productivity of Africa’s agricultural systems – one of the most significant challenges facing agriculture on the continent.

Researchers now have a solid foundation on which new studies and collaborations can be built. For example, CIAT will use the methodologies and data developed by AfSIS research to explore the complex interactions between soils, climate change and livelihoods. The Land Degradation Surveillance Framework developed through the AfSIS project will be linked to social and economic information about farmer households with the aim of adapting land and farm management strategies to their circumstances and increasing the adoption rates of climate smart agriculture. CIAT will also use the agronomic trial data to feed into yield gap assessments and to inform regional crop yield models.

The second phase of AfSIS, which kicked off this month, has three main aims: to make the information more widely available and accessible to everyone working in agriculture, particularly national researchers; develop applications to guide regional, landscape and farm land management decisions; and provide national and regional policymakers with scientific evidence and new technological options that will help reduce risks associated with soil and landscape management decisions.

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Soils, Soils website