Nutrients and soil fertility management

Soil fertility is the capacity to receive, store and transmit energy to support plant growth. It is the component of overall soil productivity that deals with its available nutrient status, and its ability to provide nutrients out of its own reserves and through external applications for crop production.

There are three main components of soil fertility - physical, chemical and biological (Abbott and Murphy 2003). The level of soil fertility results from the inherent characteristics of the soil and the interactions that occur between these three components. Most characteristics that contribute to the fertility of soil, such as soil pH and the susceptibility of the soil to compaction are dependent on the constituents of the original parent rock. Subsequent events, including the growth of plants and addition of fertilizer, modify the soil characteristics and alter its fertility.

Continuous use of acidic or salty synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides disrupts the delicate balance between the three components of soil fertility. Competing land uses and extensive degradation are rapidly depleting the amounts of soils and water available for food production. In Africa alone 6.3 million hectares of degraded farmland have lost their fertility and water-holding capacity and need to be regenerated to meet the demand for food of a population set to more than double in the next 40 years.

In this section, you will find advice to retain or regain soil fertility.