Soil Health Consortiums: Making soil fertility management more relevant to farmers

The West Africa Soil Health Consortium (WASHC) project started three years ago with the aim to establish and provide support to Soil Health Consortiums in five West African countries. This would facilitate wider uptake of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices and technologies with visible impact on rural livelihoods. The project was funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as an initiative of the Soil Health Program.
Researcher preparing field for planting.

The West Africa Soil Health Consortium (WASHC) project started three years ago with the aim to establish and provide support to Soil Health Consortiums in five West African countries. This would facilitate wider uptake of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices and technologies with visible impact on rural livelihoods. The project was funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as an initiative of the Soil Health Program.

The project is based on the rationale that even though a lot of research on ISFM has been done in the past, little has been achieved in the way of farmers adopting these sustainable soil and land management practices. Farmers have low awareness of ISFM stemming from little or non-availability of related information or they do not have access to the information.

The solutions to soil fertility problems are rather complex in that integrated practices are required to improve productivity in a sustainable manner, especially against the backdrop of degraded soils that is prevalent in African agricultural landscapes. The use of improved crop varieties or the enhanced use of fertilizer, on their own, will not solve the problem if they are not accompanied by measures to improve soil organic matter management and adapt management practices to local conditions. This requires results from research to be translated, better communicated, and delivered to farmers in the form of practical and practicable recommendations. It requires engagement with stakeholders involved in the delivery process as well as building capacity in creating appropriate communication and awareness creation tools. The facilitation can only be done at national or subnational level but it is complex because of the many thematic aspects, the many parties involved, and the institutional arrangements this requires.

Under WASHC, IITA facilitated the establishment of six soil health consortia in five countries: one each in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger; and two in Nigeria, one for the northern region and another for the south. These consortia brought together a wide range of partners from research organizations and development and outreach partners to farmer organizations, input providers, and financial institutions.

These also provided a platform for exchange of data and information, as well as for streamlining and harmonizing the approach to scaling of ISFM and for advocacy on ISFM and more sustainable agricultural production practices. The consortia have put great effort in sensitization and raising awareness on ISFM and in reaching out to farmers through the delivery partners. Much progress has been made with compiling data and information from research trials on various aspects of ISFM and with compiling and developing information materials on several soil fertility management practices and productivity enhancing technologies.

An outstanding achievement of this project is that, for the first time ever in West Africa, a central location or address where information on ISFM can be obtained has been established. The implementing institution in each participating country has taken on the role of hosting that country’s soil health consortia. Although the project itself is closing, the consortia are now in the process of registering and getting official recognition such that they could operate in a formal institutional structure to further promote and facilitate the scaling of ISFM.

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