Pakistani Agricultural Institutions, USDA, and ICARDA Demonstrate How to Improve Soil Health

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) technical specialists held their second annual meeting with local partners October 29 and 30 as part of an ongoing 2 1/2 year, $1.4 million project to improve soil health and fertility in Pakistan.

This collaboration among USDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and 10 Pakistani institutions spreads awareness about how Pakistani farmers can improve soil health and fertility to provide more nutrients and water for their crops.

USDA Agronomist Mike Kucera said Pakistan’s soil resources can be maintained and improved through the use of the “four Rs:” the right nutrients, applied at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. “Keeping soils covered with crop residue, utilizing cover crops, limiting soil disturbance, providing a living root throughout the year, and using crop rotations are other key measures to maintain healthy, productive soils for Pakistan’s future generations,” Kucera added.

Innovative practices being demonstrated and disseminated to farmers through this project include: composting old banana leaves and stems to add organic matter to soil, using biofertilizer to enhance the efficiency of conventional fertilizer, planting seeds directly through crop residue with no tillage, using green manure, and using the University of Agriculture – Faisalabad fertilizer prediction model to reduce the over-application of nitrogen fertilizer and get better economic returns.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam, the soil fertility expert leading the project at ICARDA, commented, “adding organic manures and compost to the soil is very important.”

USDA and ICARDA work in partnership across the provinces of Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with three provincial agricultural research institutes, two Pakistani universities, three institutes of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), one provincial agricultural extension department, and a Pakistani agricultural NGO. USDA technical specialists have provided training to these Pakistani partner institutions about various methods of building and monitoring soil health and about how to develop short instructional videos for farmers and agricultural service providers. Through farmer field days, radio and television programs, and other activities conducted by the partner institutions, many farmers are becoming aware of how they can improve their soil health and fertility for better food security.