Mapping soils for African farmers

Mapping soils for African farmers

There is dearth of information on the quality of soils across Africa, including Nigeria. But plans are afoot for a massive soil survey project to be overseen by scientists stationed across the continent, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

 

INDUSTRIAL oil palm cultivation is driving economies such as Malaysia and Indonesia.  This is the reason the National Palm Produce Association of Nigeria (NPPAN) President, Mr. Alphonsus Inyang, is encouraging investors in oil palm cultivation.

He said: “Oil palm is a crop that grows very well in the southern part of the country and some parts of the Northcentral region. All that we need to develop this ‘Tree of Life’ called oil palm is massive investments in plantation development and support for small holder farmers in the 24 states.”

A major investor, Inyang sees oil palm as an economic enabler, capable of unleashing enormous growth and engender sustainable economy for the country. This is because it brings revenue for host governments, along with jobs and rural prosperity.

As lucrative as it may appear, however, it takes a lot to develop or run a large-scale commercial oil palm plantation, whether in Nigeria or any part of Africa.

While the crop is well farmed in West Africa, it cannot grow on degraded soils. Ascertaining  whether a soil is degraded begins with soil mapping of the area. The soil maps   provide information on land suitability for oil palm cultivation and vulnerability.

Acording to Inyang, Nigeria offers the low-lying tropical ecosystems oil palm prefers, hence, an opportunity for states, businesses and farmers to generate income.The same applies to the Southeast Asia, where most oil palm plantations are located. Yet,the  situation is not the same in other parts of Africa that support oil palm cultivation.

Analysts say oil palm  is sensitivity to rain forest temperature, which is a cause for major concern.

They said the development of oil palm plantations in a watershed area can exacerbate flooding for nearby communities.

They said large-scale oil palm plantations established in watershed areas were prone to prolonged flooding, subsequently increasing many people’s vulnerability to flooding as they depend economically on the plantations.

Compared to other countries in Africa, Nigeria has the right environment to grow oil palm.The crop grows well almost on land in the Southsouth.

However, oil palm obtains very low yields compared to what the species and the climate allow in areas where water resources and soil nutrients are sufficient.

The Executive Director, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Benin City, Edo State, Dr. Celestine Ikuenobe, noted that soil is a complex natural resource that requires precise fertility and nutrient mapping to put in place a responsive management strategy.

To solve this problem, Ikuenobe added, would require soil maps.

He emphasised that soil maps are necessary for the development of the oil palm industry as they enable investors to identify crop nutrient problems and launch timely intervention strategies can result in higher profitability.

He told The Nation that the nutrient status in oil palm plantation was usually maintained through applications of fertiliser.

According to him, a quality soil map provides the initial basics for soil test, allowing the development of nutrient management plans such as nutrient rates, sources, timing and application to achieve the best agronomic, economic and environmental objectives.

Ikuenobe said NIFOR is in partnership with OCP Nigeria to develop specific soil maps for oil palm farmers.

He stressed that oil palm production in the country had not been at optimum for some reasons.

He said achieving the desired yields went beyond having the right seeds, but also having the right fertiliser in the right proportion.

Ikuenobe was happy that this collaboration, among other things, would enable them carry out proper soil mapping, which will determine the type of nutrient and quantity in the soil. He added that it would also enable the formulation of location of specific fertiliser for oil palm.

He expressed gratitude to OCP Africa, saying the collaborations, with a lot of investments in the oil palm industry in Nigeria, would bring about an upsurge.The partnership would enable them to prepare ahead to meet the input requirements of farmers in the sector.

One of local farmers’ biggest challenge is the absence of soil mapping infrastructure.

The Country Manager OCP Nigeria, Caleb Usoh, explained that there was the need for good quality soil information to plan the most efficient use of fertiliser in the oil palm sector.

He explained that the soil map will involve studying soils in producing areas in an effort to develop fertiliser for growing the crop.

Africa is one of the largest and most challenging regions for soil scientists with at least a 1000 soil types. The continent’s soils are more diverse. In most countries, soil survey maps are old.

A key problem holding back soil management in Africa  is the lack of continent-wide soil mapping and information database.

Experts said there was an urgent need for accurate, up-to-date and spatially-referenced comprehensive maps to support agriculture in Africa. Beginning by mapping sub-Saharan Africa, a digital soils map has  being developed by the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) project.

The map based on a fine-resolution three-dimensional grid shows functional properties of soils and is accessible to a mixed audience of scientists, local farmers and policymakers providing up-to-date information for the mapping of soil conditions and setting a baseline for the monitoring of ecological changes.

AfSIS is led by the Columbia Global Centres, Africa, in partnership with the Earth Institute, Columbia University, ISRIC—World Soil Information and ICRAF-The World Agro-Forestry Centre. It includes scientists from national agricultural centres and universities throughout Africa, including Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where regional laboratories conduct soil sampling and spectral analysis as well as train local partners.

The project also  involved collaboration with national agricultural research stations in Kenya, Nigeria and other countries in Africa that are working on soil sampling, setting up field trials, conducting laboratory analysis and producing soil property maps.

In 2016, a group of global experts on soil and natural resource conservation, along with Conference of the Parties (COP 22) Scientific Committee members, met on the sidelines of COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco to shape an agenda for sustainable management of Africa’s soils. The goal was to discuss the major factors that would revive its soils and enable food security for Africans against climate change.

The discussions, led by panelists,  led to some key outcomes that would inform the Adaptation of African Agriculture to Climate Change (AAA) Initiative, a framework applicable to the entire African continent that will guide climate change action for African countries.

One of the experts, Prof. Tekalign Mamo, a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Global Ambassador from Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, noted that many countries were not investing in soil maps, which was much needed to address the challenges of Africa’s diverse soils.

Ethiopia was cited as one of the few African countries that has completed mapping and characterising most of its arable soils, and is applying the information to develop fertiliser management strategies at district and sub-district levels.

In Morocco, there is the Fertimap project. It is made available through a web-based soil information system offering decision support to farmers. Morocco Fertilised Soil Map followed a partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries and the OCP Group, under the Green Morocco Plan.

The objective of the project was to develop an innovative fertilisation consultancy system based on the analysis of soil fertility status and crop nutrient requirements.

Also, the OCP Group has launched a new solidarity initiative for the benefit of Moroccan farmers. The ‘Al Moutmir’(The Fruitful) initiative sends mobile laboratories across Morocco to analyse soil and provide advice to small farmers.

OCP launched the initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and several research institutions.

Under the initiative, OCP mobilised more than 10 vans equipped with advanced equipment for soil analysis.The mobile laboratories will benefit farmers across the country, but will focus on small farmers who cannot access such services, either due to lack of awareness or financial difficulties.The initiative seeks to analyse soil samples from 30,000 farms in the 2020-2021 agricultural season. The researchers and experts working in the vans will provide farmers, based on the analysis of soil samples, with detailed recommendations on how to optimise their crops.

The experts and researchers participating in the campaign come from the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinary Institute (IAV), the National School of Architecture (ENA), and the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P).

At the continental level, OCP Group has launched initiatives to support agriculture and food security, both in Morocco and in other African countries.

The fertiliser group is moving forward with its “Restore Africa Soils” platform to allow African researchers to communicate expertise on soil mapping.

OCP announced that it established the platform in May to ensure the exchange of mechanisms between African researchers and the company’s partners on soil mapping.

The programme seeks to allow stakeholders to share their experience in the field, including sampling and laboratory analysis.

The project also enables the “continuity of training on reasoned fertilisation on geographic information systems” and on the quality control of fertiliser and intends to supply a Data Bank devoted to African soils.

For OCP, the project ensures a “real sharing of experience and ‘best practices’ on the subject.”

OCP organised the first meeting on the project on October 8, convening representatives from the Togolese Institute for Agronomic Research (ITRA).

The meeting served as an opportunity for ITRA to share with the participants its experience on the implementation of the soil fertility map project.

In addition to ITRA, attendees from the FAO, among others, also participated in the webinar.

OCP held its second meeting last week, covering the implementation of the “fertility card project” in Burkina Faso.

“It will once again be an opportunity for stakeholders to exchange views and share their knowledge and expertise on the subject,” OCP said.

OCP launched the project in collaboration with UM6P.

The project also benefits from the support of the Tekalign Mamo Centre for Research on Soils and Fertiliser in Africa (CESFRA).

The project is part of the OCP’s actions in Africa to promote the creation of strategic decision-support tools in terms of agricultural policies.

OCP’s project includes capacity building for agriculture officials in partner countries, upgrading soil analysis laboratories, and assessing the state of soil fertility in areas covered by the project.

The foundation also supports African farmers through the development of fertilisation recommendations.

Nearly 3.5 million hectares are concerned by soil mapping work in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 220 managers trained.

The OCP also announced that 17 fixed and mobile laboratories have been equipped with a view to the emergence of sustainable and resilient agriculture in Africa.

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The Nation

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