Many rural people in Tajikistan cannot afford to regularly buy products like fuel and agrochemical inputs. Instead, they rely on locally available yet increasingly scarce natural resources. One result is that large amounts of animal dung are used as fuel for cooking and heating. Simple modifications of local cookstoves are supporting rural communities to use local resources more efficiently, in the process improving soil rehabilitation.

To help understand different viewpoints on the effectiveness of EM (Effective Micro-organism), LEISA asked two professionals for their opinion. Dr. Narayana Reddy is a prize-winning organic farmer (who made the transition from conventional agriculture in 1980), writer and trainer from Bangalore, India. Dr. Ken Giller is professor of Plant Production Systems at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, and has extensive experience in soil microbiology research with microbial inoculants.

Excessive use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides has affected soil and water quality in the Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka. Students from the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Jaffna have been learning about green manures from farmers, and how they have been used to improve soils. Green manures were also used successfully to rehabilitate salinated soils affected by the tsunami. These and other organic practices are now being promoted with and by farmers.

Integrating cover crops and green manures helps farmers rehabilitate degraded soils in highland areas. In Ecuador, farmers experimented with this conservation practice. They found that it improved their farming system in many ways: increased productivity in their main crop, decreased weeding time, provided them with an extra crop (for food, fodder, marketing), besides rehabilitating their soils.

Getting farmers to adopt new technologies to address soil erosion and fertility problems is not easy. In Vietnam, a multidisciplinary research project to improve soil management in traditional mountainous agricultural farming systems managed to attract farmers' interest and stop soil erosion. This success stems from encouraging farmers, extensionists and researchers to jointly define and implement the project.

When agricultural researchers visit farms in order to gather information for their research programmes, farmers rarely get proper feedback. Research information on scientific concepts such as soil fertility and nutrient balances is often considered too abstract for them. Researchers in Kenya returned to farmers to discuss their results in the context of Farmer Field Schools. Through the workshops that ensued, they managed to find a common language to bridge the communication gap.

Farmers are more likely to adopt and adapt improved soil management strategies if their efforts lead to an immediate economic benefit. An encouraging policy environment, as well as farmer organisation also stimulates the adoption of conservation practices. In Mexico, farmers are adapting their maize-based cropping systems to conservation agriculture, leading to both higher profits and soil conservation.

Soil is often viewed as a physical substrate that performs a wide range of functions that also go beyond agriculture. It regulates water, sustains plant and animal life, recycles organic wastes, cycles nutrients, filters out pollutants, and serves as a physical support for structures. Yet, soil is also a living entity in itself, containing an enormous number of organisms, and vast biodiversity. One gram of good soil contains millions of organisms, including several thousand different species.