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24 July 2013

Reporting from SLU Global Food Security Symposium: Sustainable and Diversified Agricultural Systems – Essential for Food Security

Diversified agricultural systems along with sustainable and efficient management of resources and soil fertility are essential in order to improve and maintain land productivity. To reduce starvation and malnutrition, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and partners in Africa have dedicated funding for food security related research projects. This resulted in several studies that were presented at The SLU Global Food Security Symposium in June 2013.

Agroforestry, what is the potential?

There has been an increasing interest of agroforestry systems from farmers and researchers for a long time. To what extent different agroforestry systems can improve soil properties, crop production and livelihoods were discussed during the symposium.  Intercropping of trees with, crops or livestock in agroforestry systems theoretically is beneficial. The trees produce firewood, timber, fodder and food while protecting from land erosion and sequestering carbon. However, these interactions between trees and crops are often not linear. Understanding of the associated competition and synergies between trees and crops is fundamental in management of agroforestry systems. A group of researchers from SLU, World Agroforestry Centre and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology will investigate how the Multifunctionality of Agroforestry Systems Can Contribute to Enhanced Agricultural Productivity, Resource Utilization and Livelihood. By assessing and quantifying some of the multiple functions of agroforestry as well as identifying synergies and trade-offs at field, farm and landscape level, the researchers are hoping to find integrated strategies that are beneficial for smalholder farmers.   

Ways of increasing soil fertility

A research team from SLU, Moi University, Nairobi University and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture studied effective resource utilization and soil fertility in order to improve the terms of production for smallholder farmers. It resulted in the study: Integrated Soil Fertility Management Systems and Striga in Western Kenya. Improved soil fertility can be attained by increased content of soil organic matter through the addition of crop residues in different forms (fresh or degraded) and with different source material (manure, biochar etc). Application of this technique to the production of soybean, demonstrated an increase in soil fertility as well as a decrease of the seed bank of the weed Striga hermonthica, which can cause severe yield losses. Soil fertility amendment included the addition of stable organic resources of various biochemical properties such as bio-char, a charcoal-type substance.

To investigate this problem from another point of view, researchers from SLU, Addis Ababa University, Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources an the Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency conducted a study called Participatory Soil Fertility Management- a Case of Social Soil Science. It was investigated why some farmers adapt to new plant nutrient management methods while others do not. The study shows that fallowing is currently impossible because of population growth along with a shortage of land. Manure addition is hard due to decreased number of livestock and fertilizers are too expensive. Moreover, farmers use crop residues for animal feed due to shortage of grazing land. Although, crop rotation has experienced a boost, it has a disadvantage of low food crops output. Beans are the only nitrogen-fixing crop and used to be a component of the crop rotation in the area. Howerver, due to thievery these are rarely grown anymore.


Sustainable agro ecosystems have to be practiced in order to secure food and nutrients for all. The underlying attitudes and constraints of land management are important in order to find new solutions to improve soil fertility. The collaboration within these research projects brings expertise and knowledge from local farmers to experts, which is essential if sustainable solutions are to be found. Comparing the benefits with the limitations of agroforestry systems at local levels is of high importance if it is to be accepted by local farmers. A study that brings local knowledge and scientific expertise can hopefully find interesting incentives to enhance the implementation of agroforestry systems.

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