Around 900 million of the world’s poorest people are smallholder farmers in the tropics, and their lives are a tough reality of uncertain crop yields and worries about sustainability. Soils are often mismanaged and become rapidly degraded, which in turn leads to land abandonment, further habitat conversion, malnutrition and even starvation. It’s therefore important that we find effective strategies to maintain the soil health and fertility of such farms.
One problem with developing such strategies is that healthy and sustainable soils are a tough thing to define: soil processes are multifaceted and so simple and useful measures of soil health and function have proven elusive for soil scientists and ecologists alike. In their recent article ‘Agricultural intensification and the functional capacity of soil microbes on smallholder African farms’ Wood et al. (2015) advance upon this problem by bringing a range of new laboratory and statistical tools to the table that, to my knowledge at least, have not yet been used in this type of work.