Food productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa will be enhanced when farmers become experts in soil fertility management on their own land. This can be expedited through carefully designed governments and stakeholders’ interventions. Professor Olabanji Oyun stated this while delivering the 100th Inaugural Lecture of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA with the title Tree Litter: The Natural Food of Healthy Soils. Oyun, a Professor of Silviculture and Agroforestry said financial support is needed for research to enable small holder farmers ensure that the soil remains healthy enough to sustain agricultural productivity in order to adequately feed the growing population.
The lecturer said while the rest of the world has seen significant increases in per capita food availability over the past 45 years through technological advances of the Green Revolution, the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa has only improved slightly due to the complexity of landscapes and farming systems on the continent. He said Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) which is an ecological approach that uses locally available amendments (crop residues, green manure and animal manure) and inorganic fertilisers in an integrated manner is becoming the only viable option for solving the problem of soil fertility in Africa.
While stressing the importance of leaf litter to healthy soils, Oyun said soil and leaf litter layer serve as sources of decomposable organic material releasing nutrients for new growth which will in turn result to increased productivity in crop yield.
He said soil and leaf litter layers are an integral part of the ecosystem and common management practices such as burning, grazing and tidying up the undergrowth can have a direct and dramatic impact on soil and litter layers.
The lecturer added that retaining features such as fallen logs, leaf litter and braches provide important refuge habitats for many soil and litter dependant animals which maintains the decomposition processes and nutrient cycles keeping the soils healthy, plants healthy and wildlife in abundance.
The don said soil fertility degradation is the single most important constraint to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa, as soil fertility decline is not just a problem of nutrient deficiency but that of physical and biological degradation and inappropriate crop varieties and cropping system designs. He said soil fertility degradation is devastating for Africa’s environment and compromises future development opportunities thus tackling soil fertility issues require a long term perspective and holistic approach of the kind embodied in the concept of Integrated Natural Resource Management (INRM).
On the way forward Oyun said extension and farmer training are needed to advice farmers on how to care for their soils pointing out that FUTA through a European Union sponsored research in Integrated Soil fertility Management (ISFM), has a small Centre of Excellence (COE) in ISFM which has trained several farmers, youths and women in the practice of ISFM.Oyun said if the future requires that farmers will farm the same piece of land continuously, this must be done in a way that does not lead to diminished soil productivity. Thus soil fertility management should be part of a wider sustainable production strategy and should not be treated in isolation but its awareness should be intensified at all levels from farmers to policy makers.
In his remarks at the occasion, the Vice-Chancellor Professor Joseph Fuwape represented by Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Academic), Professor Tunde Arayela described the lecturer as an erudite professor who has contributed immensely to research and academic development in his field of specialization. He said “Professor Oyun has been a consistently productive scholar who has demonstrated his intellectual prowess in his field in addition to providing leadership for his students and younger academics”.