Research News

Soil Mapping in Africa Breaks New Ground

2011-03-11

Accurate knowledge of local and regional soil characteristics is essential for sustainable agricultural development, but the existing body of information about the conditions and trends of African soils is outdated and imprecise. There is an urgent need for accurate, up-to-date and spatially-referenced soil information—in the form of accurate and comprehensive maps, services and products—to support agriculture in Africa.

Conventional soil mapping is limited in what it can communicate. Using new technologies and methods, however, including vastly improved satellite data and ground-based spectral measurements, new techniques in statistical modeling, major improvements in the collection and prediction of soil properties, and improvements in pixel displays, it is now possible to produce a high-resolution digital soil map for the entire world, at 100 times the resolution of existing soils maps.

Beginning by mapping sub-Saharan Africa, a digital soils map is being developed by the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) project. The map will be based on a fine-resolution three-dimensional grid showing functional properties of soils and will be accessible to a mixed audience of scientists, local farmers and policymakers providing up-to-date information for the mapping of soil conditions and setting a baseline for the monitoring of ecological changes. Currently in an 18-month transition phase, AfSIS is continuing to deepen its research work while developing a suite of options for soil and land management based on innovative, demand-driven approaches, services and products.

As part of this process, the project is engaged in the development of soil and landscape information systems in order to make legacy, recently updated, and near real-time data and information widely available. In addition, AfSIS is continuing to work on decision analysis and ICT applications that can guide agricultural management decision-making at the national, and farm and/or household scales. In support of these activities and in close collaboration with a range of stakeholders, detailed partnership and country action plans are being formulated in order to strengthen and institutionalise national soil information systems in order to inform policy decision-making, reduce risks, and improve soil and landscape management decisions.

AfSIS is led by the Columbia Global Centres, Africa, in partnership with the Earth Institute, Columbia University, ISRIC—World Soil Information and ICRAF-The World Agro-Forestry Centre. It includes scientists from national agricultural centers and universities throughout Africa, including Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where regional laboratories conduct soil sampling and spectral analysis as well as train local partners. The project also involves collaboration with national agricultural research stations in Kenya, Nigeria and many other countries in Africa that are working on soil sampling, setting up field trials, conducting laboratory analysis and producing soil property maps.

As of February 2011, soil sampling has begun in 20 sentinel sites across Africa including Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. For more information, see the paper, “Digital Soil Map of the World.”

Project Leader: Markus Walsh of the Agriculture and Food Security Center, in cooperation with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network

Project Website:
Africa Soil Information Service

(Updated 2014-03-21)