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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Project to Develop Electronic Maps of Soil in Africa

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Poor soil keeps many farmers in Africa from growing good crops. Low soil fertility has slowed agricultural production in parts of the continent for years. The United Nations says that one-third of the people south of the Sahara Desert suffer from hunger. But a newly announced project to develop soil maps and make them available on the Internet promises help for the situation.

A nonprofit agency called the International Center for Tropical Agriculture is working toward this goal. The organization will describe the soil in forty-two nations in the sub-Saharan area.

When the project is completed, farmers will be able to get information that will help them decide what to plant and how to care for their land. In the past, it often has been hard to get complete information about current soil conditions. Maps for the purpose exist. But they are in paper form and often not widely available.

The Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute in Nairobi, Kenya will manage the project. Institute director Nteranya Sanginga says soil management in sub-Saharan Africa must improve. He said the soil improvements are needed “if we are to reduce poverty and feed growing populations.” He said the improvements also are needed to fight the effects of climate change.

Researchers from the African Soil Information Service will study earth samples and rate them. 
The researchers will also use satellite technology to image areas showing the nutrients, moisture and organic content of the soil samples.

They also will study chemical and physical properties of the soil samples with a method called infrared spectroscopy. The method can quickly judge the soil’s ability to hold water and absorb nutrients. Project information manager Peter Okoth says a majority of farmers may have the information on-line in three years.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa have given eighteen million dollars to collect the information. The money will be provided over four years. Project partners include the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States.

The project for sub-Saharan Africa is to be part of a worldwide soil-mapping project. The international project has a Web site, www.globalsoilmap.net.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report written by Jerilyn Watson.

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture.

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