IPI International Potash Institute
IPI International Potash Institute

IPI Events: e-ifc No. 24, September 2010

IPI Events

March 2010

International symposium on "Importance of Soil Management and Potash Fertilization for Sustainable Agricultural Development of Central America and the Caribbean" 10-13 March 2010, San Salvador, El Salvador.

Naumov, A.(1).

(1)IPI Coordinator Latin America. alexey.naumov@ipipotash.org.

The Central America and Caribbean region is known for its exports of agricultural commodities, including banana, citrus, coffee, cotton, flowers, and sugarcane, which provide important revenue. However, in rural areas subsistence farmers, who are dependant on agriculture for their livelihoods, make up the majority of the population. Moreover, for many, fertilization practices are far from modern; the concept of "balanced fertilization" is not well-known and the use of potassium is particularly neglected.

Symposium participants during sessions. Photo by A. Naumov.
Symposium participants during sessions.
Photo by A. Naumov.

The sustainability of agricultural systems greatly depends on balanced fertilization to improve soil fertility for secure and sustainable food production. Potassium fertilizers play a crucial role in improving the quality and yields of crops and thus contribute to the welfare of farming communities. Many areas of the region with tropical soils are susceptible to significant nutrient deficiencies and, consequently, deteriorating fertility. Greater adoption of advanced technologies and fertilization practices must be a priority if food production in the region is to be significantly improved.

To share experiences and discuss ways forward for the region, an International Symposium on the "Importance of Soil Management and Potash Fertilization for Sustainable Agricultural Development of Central America and the Caribbean" was held during 10-13 March, 2010 in San Salvador, El Salvador. The event was organized by IPI in collaboration with the Soil Science Association of El Salvador (A.S.C.S.), and supported by the Salvadorean government with co-sponsorship provided by the International Potash Company.

Central America and the Caribbean: Consumption and use of fertilizers (total N, P, K per ha). Map designed by A. Naumov. Data sources: IFA and FAO.
Central America and the Caribbean: Consumption and use of fertilizers (total N, P, K per ha). Map designed by A. Naumov. Data sources: IFA and FAO.
click to enlarge

The symposium was attended by soil and plant nutrition scientists and agronomists from Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico. Speakers were invited from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Israel, Russia and USA to contribute their knowledge and experience in key areas. Other stakeholders were represented by the participation of international organizations, including Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), various fertilizers industries and agribusiness companies. The event organizers were also particularly pleased to welcome participation of young student scientists from local universities.

Presentations on fertilization of banana, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, various fruits and vegetables, maize, rice and soybean were given by symposium participants (which can be accessed at www.ipipotash.org). Various aspects of evaluation and maintenance of soil fertility, recycling of nutrients in no-till systems, compound fertilizer use, fertigation, use of processed sewage waters (treated waste-water) for fertilization as a source of nutrients, and foliar application of fertilizers were also covered in the presentations. In addition, the influence of the current world crisis on development of agriculture and disparities in mineral fertilizer use between Central-American countries and Caribbean islands was highlighted.

The presentations provided evidence that countries within the region provide several examples of good fertilization practices (including potassium as one of the basic elements), enabling high yields and quality of crops along with sustainability of agricultural systems. Sugarcane cropping in Costa Rica and management of coffee plantations in El Salvador provide some of the best case studies. On Costa Rican ingenios (agroindustrial complexes specialized in sugarcane cropping and processing), highest yields of sugarcane and levels of sugar production per ha were obtained with 200 kg ha-1, or more, of K2O applied (data from Chaves Solera). In the Salvadorian fincas (small and medium size farms) high quality coffee beans (dry) yielded up to three mt per ha, with nearly 500 kg ha-1 of K2O applied as top dressing (Drench) (data from Sandoval).

Symposium participants examining coffee processing at Benefifio del café Aguascalientes, east of El Salvador
Symposium participants examining coffee processing at Benefifio del café Aguascalientes, east of El Salvador. Photo by A. Naumov.

However, it is well-known that many farmers neglect scientifically-based knowledge on soil management, plant nutrition and fertilizer use or, because of low income levels, do not have access to modern techniques and means of production. These factors explain the extremely low average levels of fertilizer use in Haiti and Nicaragua amongst other countries, together with unequal N-P-K proportions, as shown on the map.

At the conclusion of discussions, par ticipants recommended that dissemination on the efficient use of mineral fertilizers to farmers becomes a key priority, and the symposium should be considered as a starting point for developing extension activities in this area. It was also noted that by bringing together different countries representatives, the event not only highlighted problems that agricultural producers encounter in plant nutrition and soil management, but also united a group of professionals, who could form a task force to address concerns on key topics.

At the end of two and a half days of plenary sessions, symposium participants had a day to visit farms in rural areas of El Salvador, where they had a chance to interact with farmers. Participants, who arrived to San Salvador prior to the event, also enjoyed a visit to Aguascalientes coffee farm and processing factory, which was organized courtesy of its owners, the Borja family.

Data sources:

  • Chaves Solera, M., LAICA, Costa Rica.
  • Sandoval, J., PROCAFE, El Salvador.

To access the symposium presentations, click on the IPI website at Papers and Presentations.

The report on the International Symposium "Importance of Soil Management and Potash Fertilization for Sustainable Agricultural Development of Central America and the Caribbean" 10-13 March 2010, San Salvador, appears also at: Regional Activities/Latin America