Approaches to improve soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa (J Exp Bot)

Food security is a major issue in sub-Saharan Africa, aggravated by rapid population growth and low soil fertility. Stewart et al. explore approaches to improve soil fertility, hence food production, in this region. They argue for a holistic approach that addresses not only yields, but also poverty reduction and resilient and sustainable livelihoods. They point out that simply applying inorganic fertilizes is less effective when soils are also depleted in organic carbon. Longer-term benefits can emerge from looking also at water-holding capacity and factors that affect nutrient uptake efficiency, such as pH and the soil microbiome. The authors undertook a large-scale survey and summit to identify needs and appropriate approaches across several regions (details of the survey and responses are available from their website at: A key finding is the limited access of financial resources for subsistence and smallholder farmers. Lack of mechanization and training and better private sector support and soil testing services were also identified as needed. The authors lay out of set of approaches that should be implemented simultaneously to address these problems. (Summary by Mary Williams) J. Exp. Bot. 10.1093/jxb/erz446