Soils are critical to agriculture and, in turn, to food supply and livelihoods. Sustainable management of soils is crucial for a large proportion of the population of Africa. Contrary to many claims, soil fertility is improved and managed successfully by small-scale farmers there. Careful studies from widely different areas reveal how closely bound up soil management is with complex social, cultural and ecological factors - requiring a far more subtly tuned approach to development policy and practice. This work is a study of how the context of livelihood systems has to inform development policy and practice.