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Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management

Working paper

Written by John Farrington

Working paper

In this sheet, the term ‘soil fertility’ describes the soil’s ability to supply plant nutrients. It is also used in a wider sense to cover any soil property that influences plant growth. Nutrient management includes ways to recycle nutrients, replace lost nutrients with external inputs, and improve the inherent fertility of soils (e.g., by increasing organic matter and the availability of nutrients such as phosphorus).
Over the last 5 years the debate has focused on:
• Soil nutrient imbalances, nutirent ‘mining’, and the sustainability of nutrient-management practices.
• Ways to include nutrient management in wider livelihood and resource-management interventions.
• Soil fertility recapitalisation and attempts to raise awareness and coordinate approaches for this (e.g., the Soil Fertility Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa).
• Increasing awareness that technical interventions alone are not sufficient; they must be integrated with institutional and policy elements to improve the management of soil nutrients.
• The strategic choices that determine investment in soils: e.g., the trade-offs between farmers’ immediate needs (which may lead to nutrient mining) and longer-term sustainability.
• Ways to improve organic matter, or to make fertiliser more effective and profitable.
• The roles of the public and private sectors, especially in privatised, liberalised input markets.
• Appropriate policy responses to the withdrawal of mineral fertiliser subsidies.
• Methods combining local knowledge, practices and decision making with scientific approaches (such as participatory technology development).

Edited by John Farrington