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[NAIROBI] A Kenya-based organisation has been chosen to spearhead the dissemination of data about soils to agricultural policy-makers across Africa.

The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), based in Nairobi, will collate information about soil in the region and make it accessible through the Internet. It hopes that governments across the continent will use this information in formulating their agricultural policies.

"Soil is the basis for development, [so all] information about it should be [widely] disseminated," says the centre’s director general, Wilber Ottichilo. "In Africa, there are many institutions with a lot of data, but nobody else knows about it. We want to change this."

He adds: "We need to create awareness among politicians and policy makers about the importance of such geo-information for sustainable development."

RCMRD was chosen by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), a regional arm of the United Nations, to head the initiative, out of three candidate organisations. The other two were Nigeria’s Regional Centre for Aerospace Training, and the Tunisian Institute of Remote Sensing.

Governments and private agencies that collect data about soil will be asked to forward their results to the centre, which is affiliated to the ECA.

The initiative will be funded by the RCMRD's member countries, which include Kenya, Malawi, Botswana, Comoros, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Namibia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.

Lesotho's minister for lands, resettlement and rehabilitation, Hefikepunye Pohamba, who visited the RCMRD last week, said that the centre was crucial in training experts to help the 'Africanisation' of research institutions in the region. The centre conducts training programmes in remote sensing, geographic information and environmental management.

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