700-year-old West African soil technique could help mitigate climate change
A farming technique practised for centuries by villagers in West Africa, which converts nutrient-poor rainforest soil into fertile farmland, could be the answer to mitigating climate change and revolutionising farming across Africa.
A global study, led by the University of Sussex, United Kingdom (U.K.), which included anthropologists and soil scientists from Cornell, Accra, and Aarhus Universities and the Institute of Development Studies, has for the first time identified and analysed rich fertile soils found in Liberia and Ghana.
They discovered that the ancient West African method of adding charcoal and kitchen waste to highly weathered, nutrient poor tropical soils can transform the land into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils which the researchers dub ‘African Dark Earths’.
From analysing 150 sites in northwest Liberia and 27 sites in Ghana researchers found that these highly fertile soils contain 200-300 percent more organic carbon than other soils and are capable of supporting far more intensive farming.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, entitled “Indigenous African soil enrichment as a climate-smart sustainable agriculture alternative”, was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment.
Prof. James Fairhead, from the University of Sussex, who initiated the study, said: “Mimicking this ancient method has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of people living in some of the most poverty and hunger-stricken regions in Africa.
“More work needs to be done but this simple, effective farming practice could be an answer to major global challenges such as developing ‘climate smart’ agricultural systems which can feed growing populations and adapt to climate change.”