Why reviving old crops is key to saving Africa's degraded soils

Fertile soils are key to meeting the world's exploding demand for food. With Africa set to become the most populous continent by the end of the century, repairing its eroded soils is ever urgent, says US Special Envoy for Food Security Cary Fowler.

RFI: A year ago, the US launched the Vision for Suitable Crops and Soils (Vacs) programme, which promotes a return to traditional crops. What is it about?

Cary Fowler: It aims to do work in the two most fundamental aspects of food security: crops and soils. If you want to have food security and you want to have it be sustainable, you have to ensure you've got good, fertile soils and you have crops that are adapted to climate change.

That's not what we have today in Africa, which is the continent that's most in need. It will also be the most highly populated continent by the end of the century. African soils are among the poorest in the world, highly degraded and eroded.

RFI: Why is that?

CF: It's the result of a number of things such as poor soil structure and farming methods that don't tend to keep the soil in place. If you have that kind of rate of soil erosion and degradation, you're not building a sustainable, productive agricultural system for the long run.

If we could increase the productivity of these crops, and integrate them more fully into the African diet, we could deal with issues like childhood stunting.

RFI: How will the Vacs programme work?

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity

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