At the World Food Bank, we work to address 12 key agricultural sectors, all of which are essential components of a thriving global food system. Over the next 12 months, we will be highlighting one of these sectors each month in our newsletter in an effort to help our readers better understand all of the complex issues governing agricultural value chains.

This month, we’re discussing soil health.

It’s common knowledge that healthy soil – soil that is full of nutrients, living organisms, and minerals – is essential in order for successful crops to grow. Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa soil fertility is a serious issue that continues to challenge the success of smallholder farmers who work land that is severely depleted of nutrients. In fact, it is estimated that about 80 percent of the total arable land in Sub-Saharan Africa has nutrient-depleted soil.

Soil fertility can be improved through the use of fertilizers and other farming techniques, but smallholder farmers in East Africa have been slow to adopt widespread use of fertilizers, largely due to lack of input financing. Some African governments offer subsidies for fertilizers, but this has not yet succeeded in boosting regional crop yields to optimal levels. In addition to making fertilizers easier to access financially, farmers also require support and education around appropriate usage.

The World Food Bank supports the findings to come out of a collaborative research initiative between several educational institutions and government and non-government organizations in Uganda, known as Fertilizer Optimization Tools and the 13 Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA), which presents data that “enables farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to maximize profit on fertility investment while increasing yield, maintaining or improving soil fertility, and protecting the environment.”

At the World Food Bank, we work in tandem with our in-country partners to improve soil health by ensuring the availability of appropriate fertilizers to smallholder farmers, as well as ensuring the availability of microfinance to farmers who need funds to purchase fertilizers.

In addition, we help educate smallholder farmers on sensible crop rotation techniques, such as planting soy and common beans in between maize crops. As soy and other beans leave a high amount on nitrogen in the soil post-harvest, this allows for higher maize yields without the use of large amounts of fertilizer, and implementing crop diversity also helps to reduce the prevalence of disease.

Lastly, the World Food Bank has a license to distribute high-quality, organic fertilizer in Africa. Over the next year, we will test this distribution to determine effects on crop yield enhancement.

Questions or feedback on our work to improve soil health in the areas where we work? Send us an email at


Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash