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Africa's soil erosion to be mapped digitally

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By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 14, 2009 in Food
To try and stop the growing famines plaguing the African continent, a digital soil-health surveillance system has been launched to help scientists map areas at risk of soil degradation. Slash-and-burn farmers are causing long term, serious soil erosion.
With growing famine becoming an urgent problem in many African countries due to their inability to grow enough food to feed themselves with on their rapidly-eroding soil, the mapping system was launched with a four-year US grant of $18million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa. It will be run by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. see
It also will be the continent's first detailed digital map for all the 42 African countries. It will combine the latest soil science and technology with remote satellite imagery and on-the-ground efforts to develop an online map.
African soil has become seriously depleted and eroded over the past sixty years, mainly because of their traditional farming methods, which include slash-and-burn farming techniques and serious overgrazing by livestock, especially goats and cattle.
The new digital map of all the continent's depleted soils would provide 'crucial insights for boosting food production,' said Wycliffe Oparanya, Kenya's minister holding the national development portfolio. He launched the African Soil Information Service at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi yesterday, writes the UN news agency IRIN news.
'Oparanya said the soil map would provide scientists and policy-makers with more detailed and accurate information on soil fertility throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
Soil fertility remains low in many African countries:
"There has been an effort to develop high-yielding varieties of crops but the fact that soil fertility has remained low across many countries in Africa, we have not been able to harness the benefits of the improved crops to capacity," he said. "Therefore, investing in soil health is a key concern that we must all address ourselves … to achieve food security for our people."
The food crisis facing many countries poses a new threat to the stability of the social framework and to the prosperity of all nations, he said. “Throughout the world, more and more people are unable to find food. There are increased food riots, which in turn lead to political instability.
"All nations must increase and sustain the production of staple food crops such as wheat, rice, maize, millet and potatoes, among others.”
Also cooperating are the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the USA; the World Soil Information at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre.
"Helping small farmers increase their yields and incomes is one of the most important things that the world can do to alleviate hunger and poverty," said Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"Access to better information about their soil will empower African farmers to use methods tailored to their conditions so they can boost their productivity and build better lives." IRIN
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