Soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture

By   April 11, 2015

sustainable agriculturePrinciples, techniques and resources to read about soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture are very helpful in this field. Sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term. It has quite an important role in ensuring all pillars of sustainable development and not only environmental sustainabilty.

Sustainability of agricultural systems is a major global concern due to population growth, increased demand for food, and a number of environmental factors, for example water management, water scarcity in some areas, changing of soil fertility, soil degradation and so on.

Soil organic matter, including humic substances plays a critical role in maintaining the fertility of the soil by increasing water holding capacity, reducing surface crusting, increasing cation exchange capacity and acting as a buffer against pH changes in the soil. There are 3 main principles of soil fertility management:

  1. Maximise use of organic materials in soil
  2. Judicious use of organic fertilisers
  3. Minimising losses of water and nutrients

Organic farming recomends avoiding chemical fertilizers because of the drowbacks of them. Soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture has 3 main steps according to organic farming:

  1. Soil and water conservation
  2. Improvement of soil organic matter
  3. Soil fertility supplements

Some techniques in connection with soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture:

  • Soil management techniques, including no-till farming, Keyline design, growing wind breaks to hold the soil, incorporating organic matter back into fields, stop using chemical fertilizers (which contain salt), protecting soil from water run off(soil erosion),
  • using microorganisms (eg. EM)
  • animal manure,
  • inorganic fertilizer,
  • crop rotation,
  • improving water conservation and storage measures,
  • providing incentives for selection of drought-tolerant crop species
  • using reduced-volume irrigation systems
  • managing crops to reduce water loss
  • etc.

A Japanese innovation, effective microorganisms (EM) may also be a very helpful tool for soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture. EM consist of many species of bacteria and microorganisms. The non-gmo bacteria were isolated from the nature and they are not harmful, and their use was found efficient as well as safe in different areas. The EM mixture is applied for instance in agriculture, waste management, waste water treatment and remediation, protecting natural waters. They degrade and transform organic materials into easily available nutrients for plants. EMs roll back pathogen microbes and produce numerous bioactive compounds like organic acids, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins. EM enabled composts to provide more rapidly crop-available nutrition than its natural compost.

Resources to read 

I would like to recomend some books and articles about sustainable soil fertility management, and show, what you can learn from them.

Soil Fertility Management for Sustainable Agriculture,

1997; by James F. Power (Author), Rajendra Prasad (Author); ISBN-13: 978-1566702546 ISBN-10: 1566702542 Edition: 1st. 384 Pages. You can order it on amazon.com.

This book addresses the key to the development of sustainable agriculture-management of soil fertility. Combining data from temperate and tropical regions, it presents a complete picture of how various soils can best be managed under widely different environmental conditions. Soil Fertility Management for Sustainable Agriculture is an excellent reference for environmental and agricultural professionals as well as a textbook for undergraduate and graduate students preparing for a career in agriculture or soil fertility management.


Soil Fertility Management for Sustainable Agriculture book is a very important resource for the topic. I highly recommend to read is you deal with agriculture or sustainability.

You might be interested in a research article abot sustainable soil fertility management. In Benin land degradation was caused by less and more irregular rainfall because of climate change, furthermore run off, erosion, and overexploitation of farmlands caused land degradation. Soil fertility status was assessed on the basis of dicotyledonous weeds, soil texture and colour, and soil fauna (earthworm casting activity). Authors mention that farmers in Benin have adapted their cropping systems to the local environment by developing traditional and new strategies and activities that could contribute to maintain or enhance crop productivity. These strategies include

  • animal manure,
  • inorganic fertilizer,
  • crop rotation,
  • a five-year fallow,
  • extensive cropping systems with cassava or egusi melon, and
  • emigration.

Land tenure arrangements between landlords and migrants affect strategies that can be applied to maintain soil fertility. For more detailes read A. Saidou, T.W. Kuyper, D.K. Kossou, R. Tossou, P. Richards: Sustainable soil fertility management in Benin: learning from farmers; NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, Volume 52, Issues 3–4, 2004, Pages 349–369.

You can find many training materials about organic farming in organic-africa.net, which offers information on organic farming resources in Africa. I recommend to read the basics of organic farming and soil fertility management for sustainable agriculture in pdf written for Africa. Jens Aune has also a lecture about the topic.

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