A large part of increased food production in Sub-Saharan Africa will need to take place on existing agricultural fields that are cultivated by small-scale farmers. Overcoming micronutrients deficiencies in soils is a precondition for improving the productivity on these fields and for farmers obtaining good returns to applications of simple NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) fertilizer formulations.

Soil micronutrients are needed for the proper growth, development and physiology of plants, animals and humans. Annually, over 50 percent of all human deaths on earth are associated with malnutrition, mostly occurring in the developing countries.

‒ Major human micronutrient deficiencies include Fe, I, Se, Zn, and various vitamin deficiencies. Probably half of all soils are deficient in at least one of the ultra-micronutrients Se, I or Co, says the leader for the Work Package 1, Keith Shepherd from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Methods for large area surveillance

Efforts to diagnose, survey and manage soil nutrient deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa have been insufficient due the inadequacy of human and laboratory capacity and a lack of cost-effective diagnostic methods that can be applied over large land areas.

‒There is a need to develop rapid and low cost analytical and diagnostic techniques that can speed large area surveillance of problem prevalence and track the impact of interventions, says Shepherd.

Work Package 1 will deploy new infrared and x-ray technology to provide low cost analytical methods for assessing soil micronutrients. It will also draw on a unique set of soil and crop samples being generated by the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS), coupled with the long history of expertise in soil micronutrient analysis at MTT in Finland.

‒ This ambitious soil survey is taking the first-ever, unbiased population-based sample of Africa’s soils and through WP1 will provide important data on the prevalence of soil micronutrients problems in Africa, describes Shepherd.

Work package 1 will also develop management strategies and options for overcoming key soil micronutrient deficiencies.

Focus points for WP1

Work package 1 will focus on:

  • Rapid and low cost analytical methods and interpretation tools for diagnosing soil and plant micronutrient deficiency syndromes
  • Improved data on the prevalence and spatial distribution of micronutrient syndromes in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Matched guidelines on management strategies targeted to different end user groups
  • Building African national scientific expertise in diagnosis and management of micronutrient problems, especially in new analytical techniques

The end users of results will include farmer groups, public and private extension services, local natural resource planners, project managers, fertilizer companies, national research scientists, national policy makers and planners, and international development organizations.