Biotech Updates

Fertilizers May Not Help Crops of Poorest African Farmers

October 2, 2009

Current strategies of using more fertilizer to improve crop productivity in sub-Saharan Africa may not be as effective as previously conceived. Two studies by Chris Barrett and Paswel Marenya found flaws in the fertilizer-promotion strategy used by Africans to improve soil health, crop yields, and the wealth of poor farmers. "If soils are too degraded, fertilizers don't respond well," said Barrett. "These results challenge basic assumptions behind efforts to promote fertilizer use and distribution as a key element of poverty reduction strategies in rural Africa."

The studies pointed out that first, the soil should contain adequate soil carbon and organic matter to absorb nutrients in fertilizer and second, the prohibitive price of fertilizers in Africa reinforces income inequalities. "Fertilizer promotion policy doesn't help the poorest farmers very much," added Barrett. The studies recommend greater emphasis on integrating organic matter to raise soil carbon levels to make nutrients from fertilizers more available to plants.

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