IFDC, Kansas State, USAID partner to form SOILS Consortium

Rob Bertram, chief scientist for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, speaks March 15 during the launch of the SOILS Consortium at USAID headquarters in Washington, D.C. The consortium is a combined effort from The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL), based at K-State, International Fertilizer Development Center and USAID.

Kansas State-based consortium aims to improve soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa

March 19, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three global leaders in agricultural research and international development are joining together to improve livelihoods of the world’s poorest populations by increasing soil fertility.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) at Kansas State University, the International Fertilizer Development Center and the United States Agency for International Development jointly committed to the creation and support of a consortium called the Sustainable Opportunities for Increasing Livelihoods with Soils.

The primary goal of the SOILS consortium is improving the soil fertility in the most vulnerable regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

“Healthy soil is key for producing healthy plants and healthy animals, which will ultimately lead to healthy humans,” said Vara Prasad, K-State University Distinguished Professor and director of SIIL. “Fertile and healthy soils are the foundation for nutritious food production and important for resilient and sustainable livelihoods.”

The consortium will bring together important national and international partners in developing and implementing soil health and fertility-enhancing innovations across large geographical regions.

“The SOILS consortium will provide a global platform to bring multidisciplinary teams of scholars from biophysical sciences, social sciences, policymakers and donors to discuss and identify holistic solutions and develop a roadmap toward enhancing soil fertility and restoring the health of our soils,” said Jerry Glover, senior sustainable agricultural systems advisor for USAID.

Through innovative research, coordination, capacity building, networking, data sharing and communication approaches, the SOILS consortium will work to provide sustainable solutions to build resilient households with access to nutritious food.

Zach Stewart, SOILS consortium program manager and research assistant professor with SIIL, believes the consortium model is critical for achieving these goals.

“Though there have been numerous initiatives aiming to improve soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa, they have often been siloed and limited in duration, and often duplicated due to limited coordination,” he said. “The SOILS consortium aims to bring together leading soil health activities across major production zones in sub-Saharan Africa, and through synergies with these key partners, to help develop unified regional strategies to improve soil health.”

Upendra Singh, director of research at IFDC, says nurturing healthy soils is crucial to healthy people, countries and environment. “Increasing efficiency, sustainability and resilience of agricultural systems requires inter- and transdisciplinary approach that the SOILS Consortium provides through its vision and core partners,” Singh said. “People across all walks of life are beginning to realize that healthy and fertile soils are key to political stability, food and nutritional security and environmental stewardship. This further highlights the timeliness of the SOILS Consortium.”

By combining the strengths of each of the partners’ organizations, the SOILS Consortium will implement a holistic training and support system with measurable impacts for success. In order to provide a sustainable solution to increase the long-term benefits of soil health and household nutrition, the consortium will use technical training to improve inorganic fertilizer systems and encourage organic material usage to strengthen legume and agroforestry systems and to enable producers to access markets through new technology and practices.

The SOILS Consortium was officially launched March 15 in Washington, D.C., by Albin Hubscher, IFDC president and CEO, and Rob Bertram, chief scientist of USAID’s Bureau for Food Security.

“The SOILS consortium brings together IFDC’s leadership and global reach with some of the nation’s leading research universities, creating a platform to tackle critical soil fertility challenges that are limiting progress in achieving food security and reduction of extreme poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa,” Bertram said.

At the launch, Hubscher highlighted the IFDC’s vision and outlined how it has focused on increasing and sustaining food security and agricultural productivity in more than 100 developing countries through the development and transfer of effective and environmentally sound crop-nutrient technology and agribusiness expertise.

“The IFDC is excited to support the SOILS consortium and is looking forward to actively engaging with all partners to improve soil fertility,” he said.

Initial partners in the SOILS consortium are: United States Department of Agriculture; the University of Colorado; the University of Nebraska; Michigan State University; and Auburn University. The consortium will be expanded based on the need and strengths of the other organizations.

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