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Soil fertility decline in the tropics with case studies on plantations, by Hartemink, A.E. ISRIC-CABI, Wallingford, 2003. Hardbound, 360 pp. ISBN 0851996701. Price: 65 ($120). 



Maintaining the soil chemical fertility is a key prerequisite to sustain crop productivity in the tropics. Several studies perceive that soil fertility decline is widely spread in tropical regions and that it is caused by inadequate nutrient replenishment and high losses as compared to natural ecosystems. Although this has been recognised for many decades, there is a need for hard data on soil changes and nutrient management strategies in order to improve our understanding of agricultural systems and to design sustainable cropping systems. In most studies, nutrient balances were used as a tool to evaluate soil and crop management practices and the sustainability of the land-use systems. Moreover, the focus of most studies has been on low-external input agriculture of subsistence farmers.  



Why this book?

This book differs in two important ways from other studies on soil fertility decline: (i) the assessment of soil fertility decline is based on soil chemical data, and  (ii) it focuses on plantation crops, which have been largely neglected in the discussion on soil fertility decline and sustainable land management. Plantation agriculture is an important form of land-use in the tropics and in many countries the area has expanded rapidly in the past decades. The book is partly based on my experiences in different parts of the world, click here for details


Approach and main conclusions

A quantitative approach has been taken combining published data on soil fertility decline with detailed case studies on-plantations. In the case studies, existing soil chemical data were used to select new sampling sites and to determine whether soil chemical properties had changed. The data were used to calculate rates of change in soil chemical properties and to compare annual and various perennial cropping systems. As plantation agriculture is a major contributor to the income of many countries and provides hundreds of thousands of people with labour and income, it is crucial that the soil resource base of agricultural plantations is sustained. Within the limitations of the data, substantial evidence is provided that soil fertility decline occurs in agricultural plantations, which affects crop productivity if such trends were to continue.


For whom is this book of interest

This book will appeal to those who work on soil fertility in tropical regions and on plantation agriculture but given the breadth of subjects treated in the book it is also of interest to agronomists and foresters – both students and professional. The book contains several overviews of historical developments on our knowledge of soil fertility in the tropics and has detailed information on the assessment of soil fertility decline. Crops treated include sugarcane, maize, cocoa, rubber, oilpalm, sisal and many others. For further information see the PDFs of the Table of Contents, Preface and Foreword:  

Further details about the book on the CABI website:





"...the author should be commended for assembling valuable data and by setting up a strong theoretical conceptual framework...very important reading for tropical soil scientists."

    Pedro Sanchez in Geoderma


"It contains a wealth of information. The book is comprehensive and convincing, and it adds much value to what is already in the literature. It is not a set of papers but one story, with a consistent storyline embedded in a relevant historical context, written in a witty and at times provocative style."

     Eric Smaling in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment


"Hartemink gives an excellent overview of what we do know and what we do not know and develops well-founded recommendations about improving research procedures. The many useful considerations about soil fertility dynamics in the tropics and several valuable and previously not widely distributed data sets and the comprehensive data compilations make this volume an interesting supplement to any library on soil management in the tropics."

    Johannes Lehmann in The Quarterly Review of Biology


"The book is extremely rich in information and extensive references. An original contribution is the historical view taken, with several analyses going back to the beginning of the last century. The book is recommended reading for anyone interested in nutrient balances, soil fertility and plantation agriculture."

     Freddy Nachtergaele and Parviz Koohafkan in WASWC Newsletter


"...this reviewer finds major value in this book for all who are interested in tropical soils. Reviews of literature and data sets for each chapter are extensive and unbiased. The methods discussed and devised bring the evaluation of tropical soil fertility to the state of the art. Readers of this book will better understand the importance of changes in soil fertility as they relate to sustainability of plantation agriculture. They also should be much better prepared to conduct or support research in tropical soil fertility."

     Gary J. Gascho in Soil Science 


"Hartemink's review is impressive; the collection of information and the analysis of elusive trends within land uses and soil types make the book one of the most comprehensive efforts of this type.

If we truly want to estimate future trends of soil fertility in a changing climate and take advantage of rapidly increasing modeling and spatial analytical capabilities, more attention needs to be focused on the tropics. This book is a useful step in that direction."

      J.P. Lynch and R.E. Jaramillo in Field Crops Research


Ordering information

Hartemink, A.E. 2003  Soil fertility decline in the tropics with case studies on plantations. ISRIC-CABI, Wallingford. Hardbound, 360 pp. ISBN 0851996701. Price: 65 ($120). 

3 ways to order the book

  1. ISRIC has a limited number of copies for sale at only $60, click here to order.  

  2. Members of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) can order the book for 52. E-mail orders@cabi.org

  3. Buy the book on-line from one of the following booksellers (click logo): 



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