Soil Health Payments – the next frontier in boosting soil fertility and food production in Africa?

Paying farmers in Southern and Eastern Africa to protect and improve soil health could be a more effective way of ensuring future long-term food security than providing them with subsidized fertiliser, according to a new policy brief by Clim-Eat.

Government-run fertiliser subsidy programmes are common in these regions, with a particular focus on providing inorganic fertiliser for farmers to grow staple food crops like maize. But these programmes often fail to achieve their objective of improving food security, say the authors. This is because soil health is in decline, partly due to years of inorganic fertiliser use and the absence of measures to improve soil fertility by other means. If subsidy programmes continue, they are likely to compound the issue of worsening soils, say the authors.

Yet the solutions to soil health decline are well known. They include implementing various on-farm techniques from fallowing, crop diversification, intercropping and crop rotation (particularly with legumes), to applying lime to counter soil acidity. But these interventions require technical knowledge, skills and—crucially—money.

To help solve this, the authors make the case for compensating farmers for providing what they call “soil health services” – on-farm practices that help to protect or improve soil fertility. This would be a form of Payment for Environmental Services (PES), of the kind supported by CompensACTION (link), a global initiative led by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The authors make nine recommendations for establishing such a scheme. These range from bonus payments to farmers for practices that contribute to better soils, to monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems to track changes in soil health and support the release of payments.

According to the authors, soil health solutions could have positive outcomes for food security, nutrition and climate change adaptation and mitigation. However, they warn that soil health improvement is not a silver bullet to food security or climate change adaptation, and comprehensive solutions to food insecurity and climate vulnerability need to go beyond the farm and even beyond agriculture.

Click to read From input subsides to compensating farmers for soil health services.

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