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Lending a helping hand to develop African soil information


7 December 2011

Visiting fellows from West Africa learn how to use statistical analysis software to examine geographic information system data on soil. Fellows from left to right: Vincent Aduramigba-Modupe, Martin Yemefack (standing), Wilson Agyare, Mary Idowu and Ishaku Amapu.
Visiting fellows from West Africa learn how to use statistical analysis software to examine geographic information system data on soil. Fellows from left to right: Vincent Aduramigba-Modupe, Martin Yemefack (standing), Wilson Agyare, Mary Idowu and Ishaku Amapu.

West African soil scientists are learning how to make the most out of sub-Saharan African soil during a six-week visit to the University of Sydney.

"There is a lack of accurate soil information in many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa," said the visit coordinator, Associate Professor Inakwu Odeh from the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

"According to statistics published in 2010 by the United Nations, agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa has grown over the past 50 years, but more slowly than the population," said Associate Professor Odeh.

"That means that there has been a decline in per capita energy accessibility - so not enough food is being produced per person in these countries. Additionally, it turns out this very modest growth in production has been primarily through area expansion, with yields per hectare especially stagnant over the same period."

The six visiting scientists are from universities and government research and soil management agencies in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal. Associate Professor Odeh is running training sessions on high resolution digital soil mapping and agricultural statistical analysis.

The six-week intensive training program in the latest soil mapping techniques is coordinated by the University of Sydney's Associate Professor Odeh, along with colleagues Dr Thomas Bishop and Dr Budiman Minasny.

"We're using open source and free statistical analysis software that our visiting fellows can access and use when they return to their home countries," said Associate Professor Odeh.

To meet the increased soil information demand in sub-Saharan Africa, the GlobalSoilMap.Net consortium launched a regional project in 2009 called Africa Soil Information Service. The University of Sydney is one of the key partners in the consortium under the leadership of Professor Alex McBratney.

The six visiting fellows are all key participants in the Africa Soil Information Service project, with their time spent at the University of Sydney aimed at passing on digital soil mapping and assessment techniques developed at the University of Sydney and now used internationally.

"As part of our University's contribution to creating digital soil information for Africa, I recently spent six months in Africa and the Netherlands, lending a helping hand to the efforts of creating digital soil maps for Nigeria," said Associate Professor Odeh.

"This current training is further enhancing the collaboration between our University and a number of key institutions in the region."

The visiting fellows are sponsored by AusAID as part of the Australian Leadership Awards Fellowships program.


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