The key to counteracting carbon emission and global food shortage due to climate change may rest upon a 700-year-old farming technique from West Africa, according to a study led by the University of Sussex. Apparently, this ancient method transforms nutrient-poor soil into fertile farmland while containing more carbon than other soils.

The study published on March 1 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment cites that the method involves adding kitchen waste and charcoal to soils. This turns the soil color into black, hence the name “African Dark Earths.”

The fertile soils in Liberia and Ghana are better at supporting farming than other soils. The method allowed the soils to contain 200 percent to 300 percent more organic carbon than other soils.

climate change

African Dark Earths. Photo credit: Victoria Frauisn

The research team studied 150 areas in northwest Liberia and 27 areas in Ghana. Similar soils can also be found in South America but no one knows how these were created unlike in West Africa where the technique is still widely used and has helped a lot in providing food.

Nevertheless, lead author Dawit Solomon of Cornell University asserts that the fact that both isolated groups of people achieved the same results despite living far apart is something to emulate. Despite owning limited gadgets or high-tech tools, they achieved what modern technology could not.

Once nations around the globe follow this simple but effective technique, the effects of climate change on food supply can be prevented. Still, the research team asserts that further investigations are still needed.

“More work needs to be done but this simple, effective farming practice could be an answer to major global challenges such as developing ‘climate smart’ agricultural systems which can feed growing populations and adapt to climate change,” adds researcher James Fairhead, a professor from the University of Sussex.

The study, named “Indigenous African soil enrichment as a climate-smart sustainable agriculture alternative,” was also supported by soil scientists from Accra University, Aarhus University and the Institute of Development Studies. This was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.