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African agriculture often involves ‘nutrient mining’, a term used to describe the failure to replace the soil nutrients that crops remove as they grow. Over time, soils degrade and productivity declines, threatening food security in increasingly populated Africa.

Bernard Vanlauwe, director of the Central Africa hub of the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, says that to boost farm productivity and keep soils healthy in the long term, the ongoing conflict about whether it is best to use organic or chemical fertilisers must end.

Soils, he says in this audio opinion, need both. The secret to enriching soils without polluting the water system with an excess of fertiliser is not about their nature — chemical or organic — but about how they are used.