Knowledge for Development

Relevant publications

The use of participatory processes in wide-scale dissemination of micro dosing and conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe

By: T. Pedzisa; I. Minde; S. Twomlow. Joint 3rd AAAE and 48th AEASA Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, September 19-23, 2010.Participatory technology development has been used for quite some time. However, little is known about how farmers perceive participatory methods and processes. Understanding farmers’ concerns about the participatory process can be an important starting point and can further the ultimate aim of encouraging sustained technology adoption. An ex-post participatory technology development and transfer evaluation was carried out in Zimbabwe in 2006-2007 involving 231 farmers. It was revealed that use of demonstration trials encouraged the most participation and subsequent adoption and adaptation of the technologies to suit specific needs. The participatory nature of the process encouraged greater knowledge sharing among farmers and gave them more confidence in the technology. In order to increase the gains of the participatory process, feedback loops should be built in to allow improvements and modifications to be made to the techniques being promoted.


Climate risk management through sustainable land management in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nkonya, E., et al. 2011. IFPRIEmpirical evidence has shown that farmers can adapt to climate change by using sustainable land and water management (SLWM) practices that provide local mitigation benefits, reducing or offsetting the negative effects of climate change at the level of the plot, farm, or even landscape. Adaptation to climate change using SLWM practices in sub-Saharan Africa, however, remains low. This study was conducted to examine the impact of government policies on adaptation to climate change.


Sustainable Land Management in Practice - Guidelines and Best Practices for Sub-Saharan Africa

This book on Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is a TerrAfrica publication which has been prepared by WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technology) and coordinated by the FAO. The book highlights the main principles of SLM, describes criteria for adoption and upscaling of SLM, provides a basis for informed decision-making, offers a framework for investment in SLM on the ground, identifies, analyses and disseminates best practices for improved productivity, livelihoods and ecosystem services, addresses SLM planners and implementers, and offers a framework for investment in SLM on the ground. It is illustrated with 47 case studies from 18 countries. (Available in French)


Exploring farmers’ local knowledge and perceptions of soil fertility and management in the Ashanti Region of Ghana

Dawoe, E.K. et al. Geoderma, Volumes 179–180, 2012.A field study was conducted in the Ghana to assess farmers’ local knowledge of soil fertility and fertility processes, and to analyze how this knowledge influences soil fertility management strategies. Farmer's local knowledge of soil was not significantly related to age, location, or gender in this study. However, knowledge and perceptions of soil fertility were based on observable plant and soil related characteristics namely; soil colour, crop yield, soil water holding/retention capacity, stoniness, difficulty to work soil, type and abundance of indicator weeds, colour of leaves and deficiency symptoms observed on crops, crop growth rate and presence and abundance of soil macro-fauna. Though farmers’ indicators were purely qualitative, it nevertheless was congruent to scientific assessment of fertile or infertile soils in many respects. Reported fertile sites were confirmed to exhibit higher levels of soil nutrients and organic matter compared to reported infertile sites. It is argued that there is the need to utilize the complementary nature of local and scientific knowledge. (via, 21/03/2012)


Negotiation analysis for mechanisms to deliver ecosystem services: The case of soil conservation in Costa Rica

Vignola, R. et al. Ecological Economics, Volume 75, March 2012.The nature and structure of institutional mechanisms is fundamental for commons management, and yet has received relatively little attention for ecosystem service provision. In this paper, Vignola (Climate Change Programme at CATIE, Costa Rica) and colleagues develop and employ a value-focused structured decision process for a negotiation analysis about mechanisms to maintain and enhance ecosystem service (ES) provision at the watershed scale. They use a watershed case study where upstream farmers and downstream hydropower might jointly benefit from the design of a mechanism to foster the provision of soil regulation services (SRS). They have structured a negotiation template representing the important components that a soil conservation program should include. A voting-based elicitation process was employed to identify sub-alternatives acceptable both parties, which in turn identifies the zone of bargaining, or negotiation space in which future negotiations should focus. The authors then discuss the potential for application of this approach to other ES contexts, and the importance of the overall policy framework to provide resources and incentives to achieve enhance ES provision.


Releasing the Pressure: Water Resource Efficiencies and Gains for Ecosystem Services

This report by UNEP and SEI discusses the need to balance short-term water productivity gains, particularly in agriculture, with water flows’ long-term role in maintaining sustainable landscape ecosystem services and supporting human well-being. The report outlines 10 key messages on the nexus of water productivity, water flows in landscapes and ecosystem services, and illustrates them with case studies. It is geared to practitioners in the areas of planning and management of agriculture, planning of land-use, forestry, biofuels, and water, and natural resource management. The goal is to encourage practitioners to begin exploring what types of ecosystem services gains and trade-offs exist in their local context, such as watersheds, landscapes, countries, or basins, and how they may be linked to the allocation of water.(SEI via EcoAgriculture Blog, 28/5/2012)


Africa: Local innovations using traditional vegetables to improve soil quality

In 2002, fieldwork was carried out in 8 parishes in Uganda to study the use of indigenous knowledge in producing and consuming traditional vegetables such as "nakati" (Solanum aethiopicum), "ebugga" (Amaranthus dubius), "entula" (Solanum aethiopicum gilo), and "ejobyo" (Cleome gynandra). The proportion of land allocated for traditional vegetables has steadily increased since the 1970s, although exotic vegetables with their premium prices continue to have a greater land allotment. As mineral fertilizers were expensive and manure was still scarce, farmers tried to develop alternative methods to maintain the soil fertility, including fallowing and the incorporation of crop residues. They had found that the residues of traditional vegetables were particularly beneficial and had started rotating traditional vegetables with exotic ones such as common bean and tomato. While farmers did not have any formal networks for sharing knowledge, exchanges between friends, neighbours, and family seem to be effective. (It is extracted from an unpublished report by Hart, T, Abaijuka, I, Kawongolo, J, Rubaihayo, E, Kakonge, E & Mugisha, J (2002) 'The Identification and Recording of Indigenous Knowledge using Rapid Rural Appraisal Techniques: The cultivation and utilisation of Indigenous vegetables in the Mpigi District, Uganda.' The author acknowledges the contributions of the Ugandan researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation and Makerere University, Kampala.) Africa: Local innovations using traditional vegetables to improve soil quality Also available at KIT Library: KIT(K3019)


Africa: Collaboration between research institutions, and extension services, non-governmental and community-based organizations is needed for successful and sustainable implementation of a facilitated learning approach.

Facilitated learning in soil fertility management: assessing potentials of low-external-input technologies in east African farming systems The facilitated learning process of farm households and district policy-makers in addressing the problem of soil exhaustion is described. The process is applied in a case study in 4 districts in Kenya and Uganda during the period 1997 1999, where the potentials of low-external input agriculture (LEIA) practices in addressing the soil exhaustion problem were assessed. Working through an inclusive process of dialogue, observation, diagnosis, experimentation and exposure to different types of knowledge, participants made a thorough analysis of the current soil fertility situation and tested various LEIA options for improving soil fertility management. In all 4 research sites the future agricultural productivity is threatened by soil nutrient depletion. Maximal use of locally available nutrients through LEIA practices, combined with optimal use of external nutrients would be the most appropriate strategy. Long-term and intensive collaboration between research institutions on the one hand and extension services, non-governmental and community-based organizations on the other is needed for a successful and sustainable implementation of a facilitated learning approach. Involvement of stakeholders in the various stages of the research process, including the planning and project formulation is essential for an effective follow-up and implementation of the results. From abstract Elsevier Science Journal. 


Africa: Use of compost to improve soil properties and crop productivity under low input agricultural system in West Africa

On-farm experiments were conducted at Mediga and Yimtenga, Burkina Faso, to assess the impact of compost and sowing date on crop production and soil properties. No significant difference in soil organic matter content was found between treatments receiving compost and no compost. Compost application increased soil cation exchange capacity from 4 to 6 cmol/kg. Soil pH was also increased by the compost application. Sorghum yield tripled on the plots with 10 t/ha compost and increased by 45% on the 5 t/ha compost plots. Compost application mitigated the negative effects of a delay in sowing. In interviews, farmers said they were aware of the role of compost in sustaining yield and improving soil quality. Lack of equipment and adequate organic material for making compost, land tenure and the high labour requirements are major constraints for the adoption of compost technology. It was concluded that compost application could contribute to increase food availability in the Sahel, but efforts should be made to alleviate the socio-economic constraints to the adoption of compost technology. From abstract Elsevier Science Journal.


Farming without soil

A handful of Cape Verdean farmers are growing their vegetables without soil, and say their method could increase food production and reduce the country's malnutrition problem. Hydroponics, from the Greek words for water and labour, swaps soil for a nutrient solution. It would appear to be the perfect solution for a country where less than ten per cent of the land is cultivatable — yet few people carry out hydroponics professionally. (Source:, 6 March 2009)


Effect of burnt and unburnt rice husk dust on maize yield and soil physico-chemical properties of an ultisol in Nigeria

Field experiments were conducted at the Teaching and Research Farm of the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources Management, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, south-eastern Nigeria, in 2008, 2009, and 2010, to study the selected physico-chemical properties of an ultisol and maize yield (Zea mays L.) as influenced by application of rice husk dust in 2008 and 2009 and the residual effect in 2010.Soil bulk density, total porosity, moisture content, soil organic carbon, total nitrogen, C:N ratio, pH, and available phosphorus and exchangeable bases were all significantly affected by amendment with rice husk dust at the rates of 10 and 20 tonnes per hectare.In general, bulk density, total porosity, soil water content, organic carbon, and C:N were more affected by unburnt than burnt waste, while the reverse was true for pH, available phosphorus, and exchangeable potassium and calcium. Application of rice husk dust resulted in increased maize grain yields during the two seasons when it was applied and as a residual effect in the following season.(C. Njoku and C.N. Mbah; Biological Agriculture & Horticulture Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2012, 49–60).


Opportunities and limitations for functional agrobiodiversity (FAB) in the European context

Reforms in EU policy facilitate the implementation of FAB concepts in agriculture but Impediments to the adoption of FAB approaches still exist, mainly: no ready-to-use management practices and lack of data on the effectiveness of FAB measures. ELN-FAB Newsletter, April 2013)


Soil nutrient management in Haiti: lessons for future agricultural interventions

Remy Bargout and Manish Raizada at the Department of Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Canada review the intrinsic factors that contribute to soil infertility in  modern Haiti, along with indigenous pre-Columbian soil interventions and modern soil interventions, including farmer-derived interventions and interventions by the  Haitian government and Haitian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), bilateral and multilateral agencies, foreign NGOs, and the foreign private sector. This review  shows how agricultural soil degradation in modern Haiti is exacerbated by topology, soil type, and rainfall distribution, along with non-sustainable farming practices  and poverty. Recommendations aim to address the most important soil intervention gaps in Haiti that include inadequate farmer training (extension) in soil  management, and lack of technical support for legume and cover crops and for livestock pastures.    (Agriculture & Food Security 2013, 2:11)  


A Reference Manual for Utilising and Managing the Soil Resources of Fiji

This publication provides a broad framework for understanding and interpreting the soil resources of Fiji in bringing together into one document all the relevant available soil data. It describes these data in a user-friendly format designed for use by farmers, institutional extensionists, researchers, agribusiness managers, and land use planners.


In-depth report: Sustainable Phosphorus Use

Developments in industry, agriculture, waste handling and lifestyle have massively reduced the capacity for phosphorus to be cycled effectively by society and the environment via natural geological processes. The major source of phosphorus used in fertiliser is phosphate rock, which is mined in vast quantities, more than can be replaced by the slow geological cycle. This In-depth Report, written and edited by the Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, and produced for the European Commission DG Environment examines scientific knowledge on the phosphorus challenge and recent research into the sustainable use of the element.   (EC DG Environment, 10/2013)


Discovery of a gene in rice that promotes a deeper root system

An international team led by the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan, has discovered the DRO1 gene that makes the roots of rice plants grow downward instead of outward. This allows the plants to reach water held deeper in the soil. Plants with DRO1 can continue to grow and produce grain even under extreme water stress. The researchers also found that the DRO1 gene appears to change only the angle of root growth and slightly increase the length of the root tips, rather than the overall root density, meaning that energy is not diverted away from the production of grain.   (IRRI, 10/2013)


Towards improved soil information for quantification of environmental, societal and economic sustainability

International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC – World Soil Information, Wageningen) has recently published this large report in which information needs for soil data at an increasingly fine spatial resolution are being discussed.  The need for appropriately scaled, consistent and quality assessed soil information in support of studies of food productivity, soil and water management, soil carbon dynamics and greenhouse gas emissions, and the reduction or avoidance of land degradation are first discussed. Soil variables considered most critical for current and likely future model-based assessments are identified and new cost effective measurement methods that may reduce the need for conventional laboratory methods are evaluated. The status and prospects for improving the accuracy of soil property maps and tabular information at increasingly detailed scales (finer resolution) for the world is addressed. The scope for collecting large amounts of site specific and project specific soil information, possibly through crowd-sourcing and consistently storing screening and analysing such data are discussed within the context of ISRCI's emerging Global Soil Information Facility (GSIF), together with the possible institutional implications.   GSIF-related activities are currently being embedded in global initiatives Such as the FAO-led Global Soil Partnership (GSP),, the ICSU World Data System, and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that promote participatory approaches to data sharing. In order to consolidate its world information services, ISRIC is collaborating with national institutes and international organisation with a mandate for soil resource inventories.  (ISRIC, 05/2013)


Drought and food security – Improving decision-support via new technologies and innovative collaboration

The integration of three state-of-the-art technologies such that scientific findings and data are linked to actual user requirements including governments to achieve better decision-support for agricultural drought preparedness, has been proposed by Markus Enenkel, Vienna University of Technology, Austria and colleagues. Several promising approaches, ranging from the integration of satellite-derived soil moisture measurements that link atmospheric processes to anomalies on the land surface to improved long-range weather predictions and mobile applications are explored. Satellite-derived soil moisture measurements from space-based microwave sensors can help detect plant water deficiencies earlier than conventional products such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and forecasting models can provide seasonal predictions. These models must be calibrated to regional conditions, take into account weather uncertainties and 'hindsight' data, and be combined with crop health predictions. Mobile applications can link end users to drought-relevant information and also play a vital role in validating satellite-derived drought indicators and collecting socio-economic conditions. According to the authors, the added value of these technologies should create enough political will to ensure they find their way into the decision-support toolboxes of the end users.   (Global Food Security, 10/09/2014)


Climate-smart agriculture and resource tenure in sub-Saharan Africa: A conceptual framework

Key characteristics of four categories of agricultural practices with high climate-smart agriculture (CSA) potential related to sustainable land management are discussed in this paper. They include: Conservation agriculture (CA), Agroforestry, Soil and Water Conservation (SWC), Irrigation and Drainage. Nancy McCarthy and Josh Brubaker, consultants based in Washington D.C., USA, have hypothesised interactions between tenure security and adoption of changes in agricultural practices with high CSA potential, to help inform the design of CSA and tenure interventions, monitoring and evaluation plans, and impact assessment designs. They have laid out a conceptual framework for evaluating the pathways by which expanding property rights and strengthening tenure security affects incentives to adopt technologies broadly, and then apply the framework to each of the four CSA practices.   (FAO, 09/2014)


Beyond N and P: Toward a land resource ecology perspective and impactful fertilizer interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa

Initial results of experiments with multiple plant nutrients present in soils show that the proportion expressed as ratios impacts crop yields rather than absolute levels, indicating the existence of complex nutrient relations. These ratios are particularly important among Ca, Mg and K, between P and micronutrients and among the micronutrients themselves. Such ratios are shown to govern the ecological diversity of vegetation and spatial pattern of soils. It is therefore essential to include all essential nutrients in agronomic and fertilizer research. Limited amounts of optimal ratios of (micro)nutrients tuned to local soil chemical properties can have large impacts on yield and result in higher fertilizer uptake efficiency. (Virtual Fertilizer Research Center, 2015)