The below letter to the editor is in reply to Fiona Harvey's article on soils and a welcome argument in favour of organic farming.
From Mr Hasit Shah and Ms Anna Bradley.
Sir, Though soils in Africa may be old they have not been intensively farmed as have the lands in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Contrary to the suggestion in “Soil under strain” (July 17), we have found farmers in Africa willing and able to work their land in a sustainable manner utilising their meagre resources as efficiently as possible.
Sunripe farms in the Rift Valley, Kenya, are on well-drained soils formed millions of years ago from volcanic activity. They have been farmed for the past half-century and in recent years have built up composting regimes using cattle manure from the Masai bomas with green matter from crops, and as a result have tremendously improved soil fertility. At the same time crop rotations are carried out diligently with a fertility-building crop every fourth cycle. This has improved the nitrogen levels and organic matter such that subsequent crops come through much stronger and fight off soil-borne diseases and pathogens naturally. We also use earthworms to help break down organic matter and utilise the wormcast in composting regimes to increase other vital soil nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium.
These organic agriculture techniques are practical, low-cost and can be easily extrapolated and carried out across Africa to ensure that soils remain viable and sustainable. We wait to see if the large philanthropic funds, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have been set up to produce more food using high-tech techniques, will deliver what has been achieved already on a smaller scale in the Rift Valley.
We believe there is huge potential in Africa for sustainable, organic practices that improve soil structure and fertility. Organic farmers in Africa have demonstrated that organic techniques can lead to higher yields and improve resilience to pests, disease, drought, and flooding – and the Soil Association is working closely with farmers like Sunripe to promote organic agriculture in East Africa.
Soil Association Standards Board,
Bristol BS1 3NX, UK
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