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(EBC; June 14, 2018) - The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Soil Partnership on Wednesday launched a new program to help boost soil productivity by 30 percent in 47 African countries.

The two agencies said the Afrisoils program also aims to reduce soil degradation by 25 percent in the next ten years in the continent where less than half of the land is suitable for agriculture and of this, only 16 percent is of high quality.

"Only with sustainable soil management can we achieve agricultural growth, ensure food security and adapt to a changing climate," said Rene Castro, FAO's Assistant Director-General, Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, in a statement.

Castro said Afrisoils looks at a mix of soil interventions and the adoption of best sustainable soil management practices, which are focused on increasing the soil organic matter content in African soils to improve soil's fertility and reduce soil degradation.

"Healthy soil is the foundation of our food system - supporting healthy crops that nourish people," he said.

FAO said about 65 percent of Africa's farm land is affected by erosion-induced losses of topsoil and soil nutrients, noting that if soils are severely damaged or lost, they are very difficult and costly to restore and rehabilitate.

It said the new program seeks to reduce soil degradation for greater food and nutrition security in Africa which is the second driest continent, with nearly half of its surface made up of desert, and 40 percent of it affected by desertification.

Castro said FAO seeks 50 million U.S. dollars to carry out this program at large scale and for the first ten years.

"We need everyone's support for this ambitious initiative," he said, adding that Africa remains largely food insecure, directly affecting 70 percent of its population who rely on the little available land to grow food and make a living.

"Out of the 815 million undernourished people globally, 243 million are from Africa," said the UN food agency, noting that many African countries lack policies regulating soil as well as the capacity, knowledge and experience to plan and implement sustainable soil management programs.

Source: Xinhua