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Improving plant nutrient management for better farmer livelihoods, food security and environmental sustainability

Proceedings of a regional workshop










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    Book (stand-alone)
    Pulse crops for sustainable farms in Sub-Saharan Africa 2018
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    Food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa is a problem affecting 153 million individuals (ca. 25%). This problem could be worsen by the ongoing soil degradation, being cause by the reduction of soil organic matter and insufficient nutrient supply. Over 75% of the agricultural land in Africa could be classified as degraded by 2020. This situation can compromise food production in sub-Saharan Africa, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the sustainability of existing agricultural production systems. The use of fertilizer could revert this situation; however, Africa has almost no capacity to produce fertilizers (African fertilizers production facilities work mainly in blending fertilizers) and therefore fertilizers are produced elsewhere outside Africa and transported from long distances at great expenses. This situation grants to sub-Saharan Africa farmers only a very limited access to fertilizers, thus increasing the risk of soil degradation. Pulses have a long history in sub-Saharan Africa due to their multiple benefits. Pulses, and legumes in general, can play an important role in agriculture because their ability to biologically fix atmospheric nitrogen and to enhance the biological turnover of phosphorous; thus they could become the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture in Africa. In this sense, there is a body of literature that points to diversification of existing production systems; particularly legumes species, which provides critical environmental services, including soil erosion control and soil nutrient recapitalization. This publication is a review of some of the promising strategies to support pulses cultivation and utilization on smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa. The review is part of the legacy of the International Year of Pulses (IYP), which sought to recognize the contribution that pulses make to human well-being and the environment. One challenge faced worldwide is that the diversity of pulses are not captured well in statistics. There is not a clear picture of what is grown and where, and this leads to an under-estimation of their importance for sub-Saharan Africa and consequently reduce research investment in pulses. Existing agricultural production systems are dominated by cereals, and represent opportunities for enhanced crop diversification, through promoting local and novel pulse varieties. Mixed-maize is a system that is rapidly growing and poses one such opportunity, particularly for beans. This is due in part to the large number of bean varieties that have been developed to meet local and regional market requirements, through decades long partnerships foster by Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA). Bean research has included pioneering participatory plant breeding, extension linked to participatory community organizations and value chains, as well as attention to informal seed systems. This example shows how pulse research can make a different on smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, by broadening the range of genetic options and supporting innovation. There are many such farmerx approved varieties available that deserve greater promotion, as do technologies such as doubled up legume system innovation recently released by the Malawi government. At the same time, this review has highlighted that variety release has lagged for some pulse crops, and that there is urgent need for more research on adoption, barriers to adoption, and on impact of adoption. Research priorities suggested include greater recognition and attention to expanding properties associated with multipurpose types of pulses, which are popular in sub-Saharan Africa. Different types of pulses are needed for different functions and in general, multipurpose pulses are the best to respond to the diverse needs of farmers, including food, fuel and fodder, and ecosystem services such as pollination. There is a trade-off between the harvest index and other functions, which have too often been overlooked by researchers and decision makers who tend to focus almost exclusively on increasing grain yields. Pest tolerance, as well as extension of educational approaches and agronomic advice to strengthen integrated pest management (IPM) is another area urgently needing attention. Finally, the role of specific legumes and associated biochemical properties in promoting ecosystem health, community health – this is a crucial area for research that will provide urgently needed options for women farmers – and for sustainability of communities.
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    Case studies on policies and strategies for sustainable soil fertility and fertilizer management in South Asia 2011
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    According to FAO's latest estimates, global food production needs to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. Projections indicate that about 80 percent of the gains in production will need to come from increased yield growth and cropping intensity on existing farmlands. Nutrient depletion of soils is a key constraint to boosting the productivity of small and marginal farmers in Asia and the Pacific, who are among the most food-insecure. Efficient fertilizer use i s vital to reversing this trend. Most soil fertility depletion is caused when disposable household income is too low for farmers to advance from low-input/low-output farming, resulting in nutrient mining. Serious efforts are required at national and regional levels to develop appropriate policies, technologies and capacities to address this challenge. Policies must ensure that soil fertility is not depleted in low-input systems while also helping to curb overuse of fertilizers that, in some case s, leads to serious damage to ecosystems. As part of FAO's mandate to develop a knowledge base in support of food security and rural livelihoods, the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific commissioned national studies on fertilizer use in South Asia, which has the largest incidence of food insecurity in the region. The studies aim to identify gaps in prevailing strategies and policies, and make recommendations for improvement. This book contains four case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakis tan and Sri Lanka, and a chapter on guidelines for fertilizer demand assessment and forecasting.
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    Climate variability, adaptation strategies and food security in Malawi 2014
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    This paper assesses farmers’ incentives and conditioning factors that hinder or promote adaptation strategies and evaluates its impact on crop productivity by utilizing household level data collected in 2011 from nationally representative sample households in Malawi. We distinguish between (i) exposure to climatic disruptions, (ii) bio-physical sensitivity to such disruptions, (iii) household adaptive capacity in terms of farmers’ ability to prepare and adjust to the resulting stress, and, fina lly, (iv) system-level adaptive capacity that serve as enabling factors for household-level adaptation. We employ a multivariate probit (MVP) and instrumental variable technique to model farming practice selection decisions and their yield impact estimates. We find that exposure to delayed onset of rainfall and greater climate variability as represented by the coefficient of variation of rainfall and temperature is positively associated with the choice of risk-reducing agricultural practices suc h as tree planting, legume intercropping, and soil and water conservation (SWC); however, it reduces the use of inputs (such as inorganic fertilizer) whose risk reduction benefits are uncertain. Biophysical sensitivity of plots increases the likelihood of choice of tree planting and SWC. In terms of household adaptive capacity, we find that wealthier households are more likely to adopt both modern and sustainable land management (SLM) inputs; and are more likely to adopt SLM inputs on plots unde r more secure tenure. In terms of system-level adaptive capacity, results show the key role of rural institutions, social capital and supply-side constraints in governing selection decisions for all practices considered, but particularly for tree planting and both organic and inorganic fertilizer. Finally for productivity, we find that on average use of both modern and SLM practices have positive and statistically significant impact on productivity of maize. For SLM practices that also respond t o exposure and sensitivity, these results provide direct evidence of their potential to aide households in adapting to further climate change. Results presented have implications for understanding and overcoming barriers to selection for each practice, distinguishing structural aspects such as exposure and sensitivity from potential interventions at the household or systemic levels linked to adaptive capacity.

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