Buffett, Gates Foundations Fund African Soil Fertility Program

Increased investment in healthier soils will help farming families in Africa boost productivity

Published on: Nov 29, 2011

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a joint effort to improve the quality of Africa's depleted soils. The Buffett Foundation will contribute $2 million to expand the work of N2Africa, an initiative of Wageningen University in The Netherlands supported by the Gates Foundation since 2009.

The N2Africa initiative currently aims to increase productivity of legumes and improve family nutrition, soil health, and farm income by maximizing biological nitrogen fixation with soybeans, groundnuts, common beans, and cowpeas in eight countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The funding from the Buffett Foundation will ensure that N2Africa's scientific approach takes root in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

"Africa needs a 'brown revolution' to improve soil quality and increase agricultural productivity," says Howard G. Buffett, president of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. "Our partnership with the Gates Foundation and our contribution to N2Africa underscores the importance of investing in both soil and seeds as a way to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world's most impoverished and marginalized populations."

In Africa, legume crops such as beans and nuts often fail to "fix" useful amounts of nitrogen because the soil they grow in lacks essential nutrients. Using simple scientific technology farmers can introduce the bacteria, together with the seed and small amounts of other nutrients as fertilizer. This simple package can potentially double the yields of farmers in many cases, and helps to improve the soil.

"When small farmers can produce more while preserving the land's fertility for future generations, they can improve their families' nutrition and build self-sufficiency for the long-term," says Sam Dryden, director of the agricultural development program at the Gates Foundation. "Our partnership with the Buffett Foundation to improve soil health will go a long way to ensure that farming families in Africa have better soils to boost their productivity."

To date, the Gates Foundation has committed $1.8 billion to help millions of small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—most of whom are women—grow and sell more food as a way to reduce hunger and poverty.