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African Traditional Practice Builds Fertile Soil, Stores More Carbon

Neil Palmer (CIAT)/Wikimedia Commons
Neil Palmer (CIAT)/Wikimedia Commons [1]

Neil Palmer (CIAT)/Wikimedia Commons

The simple, centuries-old African practice of adding kitchen waste and charcoal to nutrient-poor tropical soil could be one of the keys to transforming depleted farmland into an “enduringly fertile” resource.

While modern-day agronomists have only recently spotted the opportunity, women in Ghana and Liberia have been practicing it for 700 years, Quartz reports.

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“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,” said University of Sussex anthropologist James Fairhead, co-author of a study produced by a team of anthropologists and scientists.

He traced researchers’ slow recognition of a valuable traditional practice “to the colonial period and to…disciplinary practices and funding of soil science that was disinterested in and disrespectful of Indigenous farming wisdom.”

African dark earths “can handle more intensive farming on less land—the soil stores between 200% and 300% more organic carbon than other soils,” writes correspondent Lily Kuo. “It also traps carbon and cuts down on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” A similar soil in South America is known as terra preta, or black earths.

“What is most surprising is that in both Africa and in Amazonia, these two isolated Indigenous communities living far apart in distance and time were able to achieve something that modern-day agricultural management practices could not achieve until now,” said Dr. Dawit Solomon of Cornell University. (h/t to Rosemary Cairns for pointing us to this story)