How soil scientists can do a better job of making their research useful

Read the full post at The Conversation.

Soil is a vital part of the natural environment. It supports the growth of plants, is a habitat for many different organisms and is at the heart of nearly all agricultural production. It also plays an integral role in countless other ecosystem services like water and climate regulation.

Despite this, soil degradation is widespread. Soils rarely get the policy attention they deserve. There is little incentive for farmers to adopt practices that conserve soil. In the longer term soil degradation costs farmers and countries money, reducing farm productivity and capacity to adapt to climate change, and causing environmental damage such as poor water quality and silting of dams from soil erosion.

One of the major barriers when it comes to governments and policymakers taking soil science seriously is the approach of scientists themselves.

There are three main ways in which soil science has failed its stakeholders. The first relates to over generalising recommendations beyond the conditions for which they were developed. The second has to do with uncertainty: scientists don’t properly communicate the risks inherent in their recommendations. And the third is about “translating” findings into economic terms so that farmers and policy makers can work with them.

Luckily, there are solutions, as is being shown through the work being done by the Africa Soil Information Service, which has started using a different approach to research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania.

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