Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)Africa

Background 1 2

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) is an approach based on the following principles:

  • Neither practices based solely on mineral fertilizers nor solely on organic matter management are sufficient for sustainable agricultural production.
  • Well-adapted, disease- and pest-resistant germplasm is necessary to make efficient use of available nutrients.
  • Good agronomic practices - in terms of planting dates, planting densities, and weeding - are essential for ensuring the efficient use of scarce nutrient resources.

In addition to these principles, ISFM recognizes the need to target nutrient resources within crop rotation cycles, preferably including legumes, thus going beyond recommendations for single crops.

Relationship to CSA

Productivity is substantially enhanced when IFSM is successfully adopted. What's more, a positive synergistic effect between organic and inorganic inputs is often observed. As a result, the efficiency of rainfall-use is greatly enhanced. IFSM advocates strategic timing and placement when using inorganic nitrogenous fertilizers, often at rates that are much lower than recommendations based on the sole use of inorganic fertilizers. This contributes to mitigation through reduced nitrous oxide emissions.

Impacts and lessons learned

IFSM is being widely promoted across Africa. For example, in Malawi, about 30,000 farmers, as well as several hundred farmer associations and agricultural extension workers, have been trained in ISFM technologies (Nyasimi et al. 2014 3). However, for widespread adoption to occur, an enabling environment must be created through:

  • Governments that acts as enablers for fertilizer imports.
  • An effective extension service, able to deliver the technology to the farmers.
  • A vibrant agro-dealer private sector that ensures efficient fertilizer and seed availability and distribution.

In addition, ISFM also emphasizes the need for ‘local adaptation’ when promoting wide-scale adoption. This is necessary due to the variability that exists between farms. Each and every farm is distinguished in terms of farmer goals, farm size, labour availability, ownership of livestock, importance of off-farm income, as well as in the amount of production resources such as cash, crop residues and animal manures that different farming families are able to invest in their farm.


  • 1

    Sanginga N, Woomer PL, (Eds.). 2009. Integrated Soil Fertility Management in Africa: Principles, Practices and Developmental Process. Nairobi, Kenya: TSBF-CIAT. This book's purpose is not only to improve understanding of soil fertility management in Africa, but to do so in a proactive manner that serves as a call for action. This book describes the principles and practices of better managing soil fertility and sustaining crop productivity in Africa, but also the developmental processes necessary to propel ISFM into broader developmental and environmental agendas. In this way, this book not only captures current scientific knowledge of soil fertility management for use by agricultural researchers and educators, but also serves as a crossover publication for application by policymakers, development specialists and rural project managers at a time when the continent must respond to challenges posed by food shortages and continuing degradation of its agricultural resources. It is hoped that this book will contribute to more effective and widespread application of ISFM approaches and technologies, resulting in more productive and sustainable agriculture, improving household and regional food security and increasing incomes of small-scale farmers.
  • 2

    Fairhurst T, (Ed.). 2012. Handbook for Integrated Soil Fertility Management. Pondicherry, India: Africa Soil Health Consortium. This book is meant for training of extension workers in soil fertility management techniques in SSA and for workers involved in rural development that would like to learn more about the principles and practices of ISFM. This handbook is also a useful primer on ISFM for education organizations such as universities and technical colleges, organizations involved in the development of policy on agriculture and rural development that need reference materials on ISFM techniques, and other government and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) seeking to implement ISFM.
  • 3

    Nyasimi M, Amwata D, Hove L, Kinyangi J, Wamukoya G. 2014. Evidence of Impact: Climate-Smart Agriculture in Africa. CCAFS Working Paper no. 86. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The vulnerability of Africa’s agriculture to climate change is complex. It is shaped by biophysical, economic, socio-cultural, geographical, ecological, institutional, technological and governance processes that interact in intricate ways, and can together reduce farmers’ adaptive capacity. Women farmers with few resources are particularly vulnerable. This working paper highlights the array of adaptation strategies that exist across Africa’s diverse farming systems and climatic conditions. These strategies can provide the impetus for transforming Africa’s agriculture. The case studies show how farmers are already adapting to climate change, what kinds of investment and how much is needed, and what local and national leadership is necessary to increase adoption and scale up. Successful case studies are broadly defined as those that identify, test and implement climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices and institutions, counter the impacts of climate change and offer the highest returns on investments. These CSA practices offer the best chance of food security and many other benefits for the people of Africa in the long term.

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CCAFS Climate-Smart Agriculture 101

The basics

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrative approach to address these interlinked challenges of food security and climate change, that explicitly aims for three objectives:

A. Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, to support equitable increases in farm incomes, food security and development;

B. Adapting and building resilience of agricultural and food security systems to climate change at multiple levels; and

C. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (including crops, livestock and fisheries).

Entry points

Agriculture affects and is affected by climate change in a wide range of ways and there are numerous entry points for initiating CSA programmes or enhancing existing activities. Productivity, mitigation and adaptation actions can take place at different technological, organizational, institutional and political levels. To help you navigate these myriad entry points we have grouped them under three Thematic Areas: (i) CSA practices, (ii) CSA systems approaches, and (iii) Enabling environments for CSA. Each entry point is then described and analysed in terms of productivity, adoption and mitigation potential and is illustrated with cases studies, references and internet links for further information.

Develop a CSA plan

Planning for, implementing and monitoring CSA projects and programmes evolves around issues of understanding the context including identification of major problems/barriers and opportunities related to the focus of the programme; developing and prioritizing solutions and designing plans; implementation; and monitoring and evaluation. Most major development agencies have their own framework for project and programme formulation and management but CCAFS has developed a specific approach for planning, implementing and assessing CSA projects and programme called CSA plan. CSA plan was developed to provide a guide for operationalizing CSA planning, implementation and monitoring at scale. CSA plan consist of four major components: (1) Situation analysis; (2) Targeting and prioritizing; (3) Program support; and (4) Monitoring. evaluation and learning.


To meet the objectives of CSA, such as agricultural development, food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation, a number of potential funding sources are available. For instance, climate finance sources may be used to leverage agriculture finance and mainstream climate change into agricultural investments. This section offers an overview of potential sources of funding for activities in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) at national, regional and international levels and for a number of different potential ‘clients’ including governments, civil society, development organizations and others. Additionally, it includes options to search among a range of funding opportunities according to CSA focus area, sector and financing instrument.

Resource library

CSA Guide provides a short and concise introduction and overview of the multifaceted aspects of climate-smart agriculture. At the same time it offers links to references and key resources that allows for further investigations and understanding of specific topics of interest. In the resource library we have gathered all the references, key resources, terms and questions in one place for a quick overview and easy access that can be used as a part of or independently of the other sections of the website. The resource library is divided into six sections; (1) References – list all publications, links and blogs referred to on the website; (2) Tools – list all the CSA tools presented on the website; (3) Key terms – explains the most important and frequently used terms related to CSA; (4) Frequently asked questions (FAQ) – provides a rapid overview of the most common questions asked on climate-smart agriculture; (5) About – where you can find out more about the purpose and structure of, as well as on the organizations and authors behind the website; (6) Contact.

Case studies

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