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Soil maps to help farmers boost yields

January 14, 2009: Kenyan farmers will be able to get free information on the nutritional condition of farm soils, enabling them to decide the amount and type of fertiliser to use. A project known as the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) has been initiated by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and is being coordinated by Nairobi-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The initiative involves production of the first-ever, detailed digital soil map for all 42 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The data provided at the regional, national and local levels will help farmers and agricultural experts to identify the best ways for improving crop production through better soil management. The information will be provided free of charge after the completion of digital soil mapping in the country, and in 41 other African states, in the next four years.

“The main problem facing our farmers on fertiliser use is lack of information on how to use the products. This initiative will help farmers improve fertiliser use,” said Wilson Songa, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The project combines the latest soil science and technology with remote satellite imagery and on-the-ground efforts to analyse thousands of soil samples from remote areas across the continent. The maps will be supplemented by weather maps to help agricultural extension officers to give better advise to farmers. The information will also be availed to the extension officers through mobile phones, the Internet and the media, among others.

The project combines the latest soil science and technology with remote satellite imagery and on-the-ground efforts to analyse thousands of soil samples from remote areas across the continent. Production of the map will involve use of scanning equipment to produce wavelengths in the soil which will then be analysed for nutritional content. It will use remote sensing technology via satellite to create detailed images of large areas indicating nutrients, moisture and organic matter in the soil.

Work on the AfSIS is supported through a four-year grant from the Bill & 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.