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Indigenous African soil enrichment as climate-smart sustainable agriculture alternative

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Dawit Solomon
  • Johannes Lehmann
  • James Angus Fraser
  • Melissa Leach
  • Kojo Amanor
  • Victoria Frausin
  • Søren Kristiansen
  • Dominique Millimouno
  • James Fairhead
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>03/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Issue number2
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)71-76
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date1/03/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English


We report on an ancient-yet-extant indigenous soil management system in West Africa wherein targeted waste deposition transforms highly-weathered, nutrient- and carbon-poor tropical soils into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils. These “African Dark Earths (AfDE)”, store 200-300% more organic carbon with 2-26 times greater pyrogenic carbon (PyC) that persists much longer in soil than other organic carbon, and therefore important for long-term soil fertility and carbon storage. Compared to strongly acidic (pH 4.3-5.3) adjacent soils (AS), AfDE exhibit higher pH (5.6-6.4) ideal for plant growth, 1.4-3.6 times higher plant nutrient retention and exchange capacity, and 1.3-2.2 and 5-270 times more plant-available nitrogen and phosphorus, respectively. Despite limited areas, AfDE make disproportionately high contributions (24%) to total farm household income. 14C radiocarbon ages of pyrogenic carbon (PyC) indicate recent development (115-692 years BP). AfDE are an appropriate “climate-smart” agricultural alternative to conventional agriculture to tackle the “trilemma of soil degradation and food security and climate change challenges” in resource-poor, highly food-insecure regions of the world.

Bibliographic note

Copyright by the Ecological Society of America . Front Ecol Environ 2016; 14(2): 71–76, doi:10.1002/fee.1226