Knowledge for Development

S&T Organisations / Web resources

The Soil, Food and Healthy communities (SFHC) Project

The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC, project in Ekwendeni, northern Malawi, began in 2000 with thirty farmers, and is now working with over 4000 farmers. It is a participatory project, in which farmers try to improve soil fertility, food security and nutrition through the use of grain or perennial legumes (e.g. peanut or soyabean). Subsequently it is hoped that this will lead to an increased food productivity which will in turn enhance food availability within households of resource-poor farmers. The end goal is to improve food security, soil fertility, and child nutritional status.The research done by SFHC project has taken an ‘Ecohealth’ approach. An ecosystem approach takes a holistic approach to understanding how humans interact with their environment, and the implications for human health. The SFHC research project attempts to improve child nutritional status, household food security and soil fertility through use of different legume options which can improve the quality and quantity of food available within the household as well as provide organic inputs to improve soil fertility. The project’s approach sits on the three following concepts of : Transdisciplinarity (involve people from multiple disciplines in carrying out research and in analysis and dialogue about research findings and development activities); Participation (use a participatory approach, rely on input from the Farmer Research Team and villages committees, assuming resource-poor farmers have valuable knowledge to contribute to the assessment of organic matter technologies for improving food security and health); Equity and gender (integrating equity concerns into programming and research activities). A recent paper has been published using data from the project, seeRachel Bezner Kerr, Peter R Berti and Lizzie Shumba. Effects of a participatory agriculture and nutrition education project on child growth in northern Malawi. Public Health Nutrition, 09 Nov 2010, pp. 1-7. Available on


EU Research network to tackle plant nutrition

The Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) project, “Biochemical and Genetic Dissection of Control of Plant Nutrition” (also known as “Bionut”), brings together eight of Europe’s top plant research institutes, lead by scientists from the John Innes Centre (UK). Each institute will host one PhD student, and the studentships will be linked to ensure that a fully integrated approach is taken to get the whole picture of plant nutrition. This integration is a key feature of the network, as it advances the science beyond focussing on one mineral nutrient, such as nitrogen or sulphur, to look at the combined nutritional needs of the plant. The results will be brought together to produce the most complete mathematical model of plant nutrition to date. This European research initiative will take steps to understand how crop plants use available nutrients, and address the need for crop varieties that produce higher yields with lower inputs and reduced environmental impact. The integrated approach adopted by the initiative will draw on the complementary skills and specialties of the research groups. Geneticists will screen for undiscovered genes involved in controlling plant nutrition, and systems biologists, biochemists and plant physiologists will combine to work out the functions of these genes. Other partners will focus on the translation of this research into crop plants in the field, ensuring the pipeline from the laboratory to the field is fully covered by this project. (Source: John Innes Centre, 5 April 2011)


Policy options for improving regional fertilizer markets in West Africa

Many governments are tempted to impose fertilizer subsidies to reduce fertilizer prices, but in an environment riddled with inefficiencies that contribute to the high costs of using fertilizers, the introduction of subsidies only adds more fiscal burden. This new publication from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) is a study that identifies a key set of policy options for improving the efficiency of regional markets and lowering the transaction costs and fiscal burdens of fertilizer use in West Africa. The authors undertook four country case studies (Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal) to review the key constraints and bottlenecks along the fertilizer supply chain. This paper is based on the country case study results, complemented by a literature review and analysis of secondary data sources. Reference: Bumb, Balu L.; Johnson, Michael E. and Fuentes, Porfirio A.; IFPRI Discussion paper 01084; May 2011.


Nitrate fertiliser wasted on sugarcane

Dr Nicole Robinson, Research Fellow at the School of Agriculture and Food Science, University of Queensland (Australia), shows in her study on nitrogen assimilation by the sugarcane plant, that, given the choice of different forms of nitrogen, sugarcane strongly prefers ammonium over nitrate and that nitrate fertiliser is an inefficient source of nitrogen for commercial sugarcane crops. The study results indicate that grower management practices should aim to reduce nitrate content in soils in favour of ammonium and organic forms of nitrogen. Dr Robinson said further work was required to breed new sugarcane varieties that have an enhanced ability to use nitrate. She said erianthus, a closely related giant grass, currently used in the breeding programme, showed promising results and would provide an avenue for further investigation. (UQ News via ScienceAlert, 9/5/2011)


Global soil partnership for food security launched at FAO

A new Global Soil Partnership for Food security and Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation has been launched by the FAO early September 2011. Besides helping implement the provisions of the World Soil Charter, the Global Soil Partnership is intended to raise awareness and motivate action by decision-makers on the importance of soils for food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation. The partnership is also aimed at providing favourable policy environment and technical solutions for soil protection and management and at helping mobilize resources and expertise for joint activities and programmes. The Global Soil Partnership will complement the 15-year-old Global Water Partnership initiated by the UNDP and the World Bank in 1996 to coordinate the development and management of water, land, and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of vital environmental systems.(FAO, 7/9/2011)


New European research programme to define policy for the sustainable management of soil

A new research programme led by European research institutions with funding from the European Commission will help to define a policy for sustainable management of soils, with a view to adopting a legally binding Soil Framework Directive, such as exists for air and water. The Ecological Function and Biodiversity Indicators in European Soils (EcoFINDERS) programme, which launched in January 2011, brings together 22 institutional European research partners, including the University of Cambridge, to formulate how best to manage the health of soil. The goal of EcoFINDERS is to design and implement soil strategies aimed at ensuring the sustainable use of soils. (Univ. of Cambridge, 14/7/2011)


Seasonal monitoring of soil erosion at regional scale

The Institute for Environment and Sustainability recently published a peer-reviewed article illustrating the application of the G2 model, a new model for understanding seasonal soil erosion dynamics. The G2 model allows for the regular mapping of soil loss estimations by land-use type on local and regional scales, and provides alternatives for the estimation of all erosion factors. It is based on moderate data input requirements; public users can download the data layers.  G2 was used in to produce seasonal erosion figures crucial for the identification of erosion hotspots and of risky land uses in the Mediterranean island of Crete.  (EC JRC’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability, 20/11/2013)