What's the Relationship between Soil Health and Smallholder Resilience?
Smallholder farmers depend on soils and soil quality for productivity, long-term sustainability, and reliability of yields. At the same time, soil health depends on improved management practices and investments. Clearly, there is a relationship between smallholder resilience and soil quality. Our December 10, 2015 webinar provided an in-depth look at this relationship.
Jerry Glover of the USAID Bureau for Food Security opened by outlining the state of soil degradation globally, and illustrated just how significant returns on investment are in regard to building soil health and reducing land degradation. Geoff Heinrich of Catholic Relief Services then discussed the various scales with which we need to be working when rehabilitating soils. Of course we need to focus on the farm level when attempting to increase soil organic matter and develop sound management practices, but it is equally important to carry out landscape level initiatives, since it’s at this level that many ecosystem services operate. Geoff also pointed out the need to ensure that suggested interventions or technologies work within smallholders’ constraints (which, for instance, include labor and cost constraints).
Sieglinde Snapp followed Geoff’s presentation with in-depth information from pigeonpea/maize intercrop research trials that she has been carrying out in different agro-ecological niches in Malawi. Overall, pigeonpea intercropping produced significant biomass when paired with maize, and also helped to improve and diversify sources of nutrition. And while in some cases, adding pigeonpea into the mix lessened maize yields, pigeonpea both improved soil fertility and nutrient composition while also minimizing the need for fertilizer and stabilizing yield variability. These factors all helped contribute to resilience at the smallholder level.
In the end, our top take-aways from our presenters are: