Thursday, December 04, 2014

Soiled Africa

Neglecting the health of Africa's soil will lock the continent into a cycle of food insecurity for generations to come, a report by the Montpellier Panel has warned. The Montpellier Panel - made up of agricultural, trade and ecology experts from Europe and Africa - warned that land degradation reduced soil fertility, leading to lower crop yields and increased greenhouse gas emissions.
"In Africa, the impacts are substantial where 65% of arable land, 30% of grazing land and 20% of forests are already damaged," it observed. The report said the panel's members believed that soil was the "cornerstone of food security and agricultural development and its care, restoration, enhancement and conservation should intuitively become a major global priority".

Panel chairman Sir Prof Gordon Conway, from Imperial College London, told BBC News: "Serious land degradation accounts for about a quarter of land area of sub-Saharan Africa - it is a vast area," he said. "There are about 180 million people who are living on land that is in some way or another degraded. It is really very severe." The problem threatened food production in a region that was already experiencing very low crop yields, he explained. "The average yield in sub-Saharan Africa is about one tonne per hectare. In India, it is about two-and-a-half tonnes, while in China it is more than three tonnes per hectare. So in Africa, we have the combination of land degradation, poor yields and a growing population."

Prof. Conway described the issue as a "crisis of land degradation and soil management", adding: "We have got to do something about it…Africa already imports US $40bn worth of food each year, it is an enormous amount. If we do not produce more food in Africa, that will get worse and worse, and the continent will suffer as a result. "Secondly, if we do not pay attention to land degradation in Africa then the land itself will continue to degrade and that will further reduce the yields we are getting at the moment. We know what you have to do to improve the quality of soil, but the big challenge is providing the finds and making sure that there are incentives for farmers.”

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