NSP - The problems in conserving soil biodiversity

Many of the problems in conserving biodiversity are associated with the lack of recognition of the importance it plays in agricultural production. Although many famers and the farming community have a profound knowledge of their agriculture, training and education is often needed to highlight the roles of the soil biota at various levels of the ecosystem/landscape. Soil quality assessments such as chemical and physical properties provide some knowledge of resources but should be supplemented with information on resources (human and organic such as composts) and biological indicators of soil quality and function.

To overcome any limitations to agricultural production, Swift (1999) proposed a series of potential 'entry points' at which management practices could be improved. These include both direct interventions such as: inoculation for disease and pest control and soil fertility improvement (such as rhizobia, actinomycetes, mycorrhizae, diazotrophs) and indirect interventions through, for example, cropping system design, organic matter management and genetic control of soil function (manipulating resistance to disease, organic matter and root exudates).  A potential set of improvements could be tested together using an “adaptive” experimentation approach whose results feedback over a number of cropping cycles. This would involve other members of the farming community such as extension agents and local community facilitators (TSBF, 2000) and be evaluated according to local agricultural, climatic, soil, socioeconomic and cultural conditions as long as the farmers etc can identify problems that may lead to the failure of the adopted system. Any system undertaken must be flexible to meet the needs and priorities of those concerned.

The final decision of whether to adopt the practice is by no means certain as the farmer may choose to revert back to the traditional management strategy. The selection of best practice is a long term process and requires a level of commitment, for example monitoring, and the appropriate incentives so that the improvements in agricultural production and human wellbeing can be shown and sustained.

Conservation in the Tropics

"The Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Programme (TSBF )"

The TSBF is an international research institution whose mission is to contribute to human welfare and the conservation of environments in the tropics by developing improved practices for sustaining tropical soil fertility through the management of the soil biota, biological processes and natural resources in combination with judicious use of inorganic inputs. It was set up in 1984 by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS). The Programme is hosted by UNESCO at UNON, Nairobi, and activities have been funded by multiple donors.