On the fertilizer-starved continent of Africa, the discourses about soil fertility revolve around the availability of inorganic fertilizers, and how policy – subsidies, tariffs, markets – can be made to support their use.
Supporters say that poor farmers are not able to make investments in restoring degraded soils because it takes too long to see yield increases or benefit from soil improvement measures. Poor farmers simply can’t wait that long to see results - they say.
But in degraded, low-input and low-output systems so prevalent across the continent, agro-ecological approaches, including principles of organic farming - if properly managed - can increase yields immediately and restore soils to support productive farming.
In celebration of the International Year of Soils, we asked a number of experts:
Is investing in inorganic fertilizers really a better option than restoring soils over the long-term using an agro-ecological approach?
Join the debate in the comments section below.
For more information, see below.
Pretty J, Noble A D, Bossio D, Dixon J, Hine R E, Penning de Vries F W T and Morison J I L. 2006. Resource-conserving agriculture increases yields in developing countries. Environmental Science & Technology 40 (4), 1114 -1119.
Ponisio LC, M’Gonigle LK, Mace KC, Palomino J, de Valpine P, Kremen C. 2015 Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20141396.
Badgley, C., J. Moghtader*, E. Quintero*, E. Zakem*, J. M. Chappell*, K. Aviles-Vázquez*, A. Samulon*, and I. Perfecto. 2007. Organic agriculture and the global food supply. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22 (2): 86-108. Or blog here.
Pretty J, Toulmin C and Williams S. 2011. Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 9.1, pp 1-241
Pretty J and Bharucha, Z P. 2014. Sustainable intensification in agricultural systems. Annals of Botany. doi:10.1093/aob/mcu205, 1-26
Pannerselvam, P.; Hermansen, J.E. & Halberg, N. 2011. Food security of small farmers: comparing organic and conventional systems in India. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 35: 48-68.
Panneerselvam, P.; Hermansen, J.E.; Halberg, N. & Arthanari, P.M. 2013a. Impact of large-scale orgnaic conversion on food production and food security in two Indian states, Tamil Nadu and Mahya Pradesh. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, Cambridge University Press. 1-11.
Panneerselvam, P.; Halberg, N & Lockie, S. 2013b. Consequences of organic agriculture for smallholder farmers' livelihood and food security. In: Niels Halberg and Adrian Müller (Eds.). Organic Agriculture for Sustainable Livelihoods. Routledge, London and New York. Chapter 2: 21-44.