Realizing that soil science alone is not sufficient to solve hunger and environment problems this inevitably led to work with progressively broader disciplines. My forays in the policy arena were successful when either 1) government officials requested research to solve a problem they had; or 2) when governments, donors, or key “game changers” became convinced that soils were the entry point to tackle a major problem, resulting in a major paradigm shift, and opening the way for other disciplines to come in. The latter was accomplished after years of evidence-based advocacy. My forays into policy had little direct impact when the research was generated by our team’s curiosity, and when it did not involve other disciplines. In June, 1972 head of research in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture asked me if I thought the acid infertile soils of the Cerrado could be made productive. When I said yes, he asked me to develop a soils–based interdisciplinary research center to tackle it. A team of soil scientists was able to overcome extreme soil acidity and phosphorus constraints. Farmers with strong government support transformed the Cerrado adding 63 million hectares of productive farmland to the world.
In February 1980, the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture requested a team of soil scientists to evaluate the problematic transmigration program in the outer islands. We presented our land clearing research results from Yurimaguas, Peru showing that the traditional slash and burn system for land clearing was superior to bulldozer clearing, his response was “now we know we are not alone’. The Peruvian data was translated into Bahasa Indonesia and circulated widely. Bulldozer clearing was prohibited, allowing them to stay in the cleared land and reduce further deforestation. The case of paradigm shifting, still ongoing, is perhaps the most challenging of all—replenishing soil fertility in tropical Africa. Updates will be presented at the 2011 meetings.
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