Soil science: a global concern

17 June, 2015 by (comments)
Credit: Vinh Le Bui/CIAT

Farmers in the uplands of Vietnam face challenges such as lack of capital for fertilizer. Credit: Vinh Le Bui/CIAT

By Vinh Le Bui

During my recent trip to Nairobi, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the dynamic soils team. It was enlightening because I discovered that as well as the many common problems faced in Africa as in Asia, there are also common solutions.

Although prices are generally higher in Africa than the average world’s prices, as I learned during a talk by Cargill, Asian farmers also encounter difficulty in investing in fertilizer, which ultimately leads to lower productivity due to lack of supplementary nutrients in the soil.

In addition, farmers in Africa and Asia both face price abuse by middle men and traders who buy at the farm gate. Switching of crops – whether it’s maize to sugarcane in Vietnam, or rice to maize in Rwanda – leads to an unstable market for commodities. And linking farmers to markets remains a common problem on both continents.

Fieldwork and Climate-smart Agriculture

CIAT staff interviewing local farmers. Credit:  Vinh Le Bui / CIAT.

CIAT staff interviewing local farmers in Kenya during a field trip. Credit: Vinh Le Bui / CIAT.

I had the opportunity to join the CIAT team collecting soil samples and interviewing farmers, and it was clear that farmers put their heart and soul into their work – also a lesson I had learned during my PhD work in northern Vietnam’s Son La province. Poor farmers do not necessarily have less land or poor land, but are not fond of farming.

I engaged in many discussions about different Climate-Smart Agricultural techniques and tools to prioritize the best CSA options and improve value chains. Yet many conversations did not address the issue of market linkages, which in Vietnam as in Africa, is a crucial issue influencing production – and should be dealt parallel with CSA activities.

The value chain should be addressed together with proposing and prioritizing CSA options – as production is driven very much by markets everywhere. Farmers will grow anything that can bring them good benefits and good intervention techniques should be introduced to make selected practices not only more beneficial, but also “smart.”

Why shouldn’t we invest in soil carbon?

During a panel session in Nairobi entitled “Soil carbon sequestration for adaptation and mitigation: opportunities and constraints,” the provocative question was asked: “Why shouldn’t we invest in soil carbon?” It’s clear that the need to increase soil carbon stocks to achieve better yields, feeding more people, while also improving people’s livelihoods – is a global concern.

The Land Degradation Survey Framework will be adapted for Southeast Asia. Credit: Vinh Le Bui / CIAT.

The Land Degradation Survey Framework will be adapted to apply in Southeast Asia. Credit: Vinh Le Bui / CIAT.

The soils team of CIAT Kenya cooperates very closely with ICRAF in doing soil surveys across Africa. In the soil lab, modern technologies analyze large quantities of soil samples quickly and accurately, to populate the global Land Degradation Survey Framework (LDSF) soil database. This detailed soil database can be used for soil mapping, improving soil and land health globally as well as regionally.

The LDSF has already been designed for the Climate Smart Village sites of CCAFS – we can apply the LDSF concept at the Climate Smart Village sites in in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, since the sites are all located within an area of 10km by 10km – matching the LDSF design – something I look forward to working on when I return to Vietnam. The group’s ambition is to collaboratively standardize the LDSF and mapping techniques globally.

Vinh Le Bui is an agricultural systems and landscapes specialist based in CIAT Asia’s Hanoi office, and research coordinator of the CCAFS Flagship Program 1.1. 

Link to further resources: 

Link to LDSF Field guide

5 Q Approach: Smart development in 5 questions 

Check out: Dataverse

Filed Under: Inside Asia, Inside CIAT