Photo: CIFOR-ICRAF/Bertin Takoutsing

Assessing soil health in Ghana to scale climate-smart agriculture

AICCRA and partners are taking action to reach millions of smallholder farmers in Africa by making climate-smart services more accessible – including assessments of land and soil health.

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As global efforts to restore degraded soils and ecosystems intensify, the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) continues to lead efforts to scale science-based – yet simple – monitoring tools to prioritize and track land management interventions.

In October 2022, Bertin Takoutsing, an Associate Scientist in Land Health Management at CIFOR-ICRAF who is based in Cameroon, led a two-week training for 16 participants from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Ghana – Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI) to kick off the monitoring of land and soil health in Ghana. Participants were trained in the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF), as part of the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) programme, which is working to scale climate-smart agriculture and climate information services to reach millions of smallholder farmers in Africa.

“The LDSF training not only helps field staff to conduct surveys,” said Takoutsing; “it is also an opportunity for research staff to acquire knowledge and tools on landscape assessment, which will be useful in assessing land degradation and soil health metrics in current and future projects.”

The training aimed to:

  • provide in-the-field training for participants on the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) methodology
  • equip the team with the necessary materials and equipment to carry out the LDSF field survey immediately following the training
  • expose participants to a non-biased ecosystem health sampling framework with multiple geo-referenced indicators, and
  • provide an insight into sample processing according to the ICRAF Standard Operating Procedure.

For the LDSF field methods, participants were trained on the various modules that make up the framework, including soil erosion observations, soil sampling, land use characterization, shrub and tree density and biodiversity measurements, landform and landcover classification, soil infiltration, uploading of the ODK forms, and soil sample processing, labelling, and packaging.

Training participants measuring the sampling points. Photo: CIFOR-ICRAF/Bertin Takoutsing

Since all soil samples were to be processed locally, the training included soil sample reception and verification, airdrying, weighing and sub sampling, as well as proper labelling. Processed soil samples were shipped to Nairobi for analysis at the CIFOR-ICRAF Soil-Plant Spectral Diagnostics Laboratory. There, analyses will be performed to summarize the LDSF field data, and key indicators of land and soil health will be generated – including soil erosion prevalence and soil organic carbon, among others.

AICCRA currently operates in six countries: Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia. Experts involved in the project have identified and assessed land degradation dynamics, dimensions, and indicators across the project areas to contribute to better technology and advisory services.

“This dataset from Ghana will contribute to the project – both by providing a biophysical baseline, and by increasing our understanding of how agricultural practices influence soil organic carbon,” said Leigh Winowiecki, the research leader for CIFOR-ICRAF’s Soil and Land Health theme. “Soil organic carbon is a key component of soil health, and has both mitigation and adaptation benefits,” she said.

Ghana’s agricultural system is largely constrained by soil fertility depletion due to unsustainable land management practices, which results in low crop yields. Food production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many agro-ecologies and communities, and this has weakened the resilience of the country’s food system. To meet growing demand in this constrained context, it’s critical to understand the biophysical conditions of farming communities, to in turn deploy appropriate climate-smart agriculture practices that enhance soil carbon storage. Monitoring land and soil health contributes considerably to this understanding.

A participant measuring water infiltration using the single-ring infiltration testing method. CIFOR-ICRAF/Bertin Takoutsing

Stephen Yeboah, CSIR-CRI’s Senior Research Scientist in Agroecology and Agronomy, said that the training and subsequent field sampling provided much-needed knowledge for advisory services and tools that help farmers make climate-smart decisions, and that it will be made accessible and widely shared.

“This knowledge and these tools help African farmers to prepare for and manage the impacts of climate variability and change, through better information and advice that offer clear choices and options to become more resilient under a changing climate,” he said.

The project will benefit from existing data in the LDSF database and will contribute to critically important global datasets. Earth observation data of various types and diverse sources will be combined with the LDSF data to develop outputs for the project, including assessment of land-use and -cover changes, degradation, and soil health.


Read Policy briefs

  1. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Ghana
  2. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Senegal
  3. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Mali
  4. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Kenya
  5. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Ethiopia
  6. Including soil organic carbon into nationally determined contributions: Insights from Zambia


Ann WavinyaCommunication Assistant at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)