Monday, January 19, 2009

New digital map of Africa's depleted soils

Terra Daily: Responding to sub-Saharan Africa's soil health crisis, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) announced an ambitious new effort to produce the first-ever, detailed digital soil map for all 42 countries of the region. This project combines the latest soil science and technology with remote satellite imagery and on-the-ground efforts to analyze thousands of soil samples from remote areas across the continent to help provide solutions for poor farmers, who suffer from chronically low-yielding crops largely because of degraded soils.

Efforts to improve African soils, which are among the most depleted on earth, have been hampered by a lack of up-to-date, comprehensive knowledge about current soil conditions. This information is critical to identify the types and amounts of mineral and organic nutrient sources needed to increase crop yields. The need for action is hard to ignore; according to FAO, one in three people - or 236 million (2007) - in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically hungry.

The African Soil Information Service, or AfSIS, will respond to that need by making up-to-date assessments of soil properties. Researchers will probe the landscape of sub-Saharan Africa, using a variety of highly accurate digital soil mapping techniques to create detailed soil maps, which will be available on the Internet. Data provided by AfSIS at the regional, national and local levels will help farmers and agricultural experts identify the best options for sustainably improving crop production through better soil management.

Work on AfSIS is supported through a four-year grant of US$18 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). CIAT's Nairobi-based Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility (TSBF) Institute will lead the effort. The new digital soil map will ultimately be developed as part of a global soil mapping initiative, called….