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This blog was adapted from Dr. Amit Roy’s contribution to the International Fertilizer Industry Association publication, “Soils and Fertilizers: Expert Views.”

Farmers need healthy soil to produce enough food for the world’s increasing population. The proper use of fertilizer gives soil the nutrients that plants need to thrive.

Using too little or too much fertilizer affects soil productivity. Fertilizer’s high cost, coupled with inconsistent rainfall, makes it a risky investment for sub-Saharan farmers. The subsequent low use degrades the soil and decreases yields. In Southeast Asia, overuse of certain fertilizer nutrients leaves the soil low in micronutrients. Balanced fertilizer use sustains soil health and food production.

The first step to improving soil fertility is increasing fertilizer access. Pro-fertilizer policies can make fertilizer more accessible and promote its proper use. IFDC improves fertilizer supply through partnerships with regional economic communities, governments and the private sector.

Once they have access to fertilizer, smallholder farmers can sustainably manage their soils. Training in agricultural practices, such as integrated soil fertility management (ISFM), helps farmers improve soil quality and fertilizer efficiency. This combination of mineral fertilizer, organic matter and soil amendments replenishes nutrients in the soil.

Also, soils require the “right” type of fertilizer for specific locations and crops. Recent field trials in sub-Saharan Africa show that productivity increases by 40 percent when fertilizer nutrients match soil characteristics. In Mozambique, for example, IFDC found that maize farmers did not profit from using only primary-nutrient fertilizer (NPK). The soil needed additional nutrients. After using a site-specific fertilizer formulation, farmers increased yields and lowered investment costs.

Healthy soils equal healthy crops. On World Soil Day, we celebrate this essential component of our food system. Join Dr. Amit Roy (@AmitRoyIFDC), IFDC president and CEO, and other experts on Friday, December 5 at 10 a.m. EST (3 p.m. GMT) for a Twitter chat on healthy soils. Tweet @farmingfirst with your questions, using the hashtag #AskFF.

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