Article purchased; Published online: 02 Nov 2017Low and declining soil fertility has been recognized for a long time as a major impediment to intensifying agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Consequently, from the inception of international agricultural research, centres operating in SSA have had a research programme focusing on soil and soil fertility management, including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The scope, content, and approaches of soil and soil fertility management research have changed over the past decades in response to lessons learnt and internal and external drivers and this paper uses IITA as a case study to document and analyse the consequences of strategic decisions taken on technology development, validation, and ultimately uptake by smallholder farmers in SSA. After an initial section describing the external environment within which soil and soil fertility management research is operating, various dimensions of this research area are covered: (i) ‘strategic research’, ‘Research for Development’, partnerships, and balancing acts, (ii) changing role of characterization due to the expansion in geographical scope and shift from soils to farms and livelihoods, (iii) technology development: changes in vision, content, and scale of intervention, (iv) technology validation and delivery to farming communities, and (v) impact and feedback to the technology development and validation process. Each of the above sections follows a chronological approach, covering the last five decades (from the late 1960s till today). The paper ends with a number of lessons learnt which could be considered for future initiatives aiming at developing and delivering improved soil and soil fertility management practices to smallholder farming communities in SSA.Directorate-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid, BelgiumUnited States Agency for International DevelopmentInternational Fund for Agricultural DevelopmentBill & Melinda Gates FoundationPeer Revie

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