So, what's the problem
Soil fertility across much of sub-Saharan Africa is poor, which is a major constraint to improving farm productivity and farmer livelihoods. To combat this there is now wide recognition of the need to integrate increased fertilizer use with other aspects of soil fertility management.
Known as ‘Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)’, it combines the use of mineral fertilizers and locally available soil amendments and organic matter to replenish lost nutrients. These practices improve soil quality and the efficiency of fertilizers and other agro-inputs.
Any decisions on fertilizer use need to consider a farmers’ financial and environmental situation along with the cropping system in question in order to maximize profitability; especially smallholder farmers who are financially constrained. The best combination of crop-nutrient-rate are vital.
What is this project doing?
To feed people, we must first feed the soil.
This project aims to contribute to improved efficiency and profitability of fertilizer use within the context of ISFM practices.
We are working in partnership with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and national agricultural research and extension systems in 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
We are capturing, sharing and managing data from both past and ongoing research trials in a common database. This is being used to develop fertilizer recommendations.
OFRA is also working in partnership with the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS) to use the available soil spatial information, such as digital soil maps, so we can select appropriate sites for field trials and extend the field information to agro-ecological zones with similar soil characteristics.
Ultimately the team from CABI and partners are working together to develop different tools and methods to promote crop and site specific fertilizer recommendations.
The main cropping systems vary between countries and within agro-ecological zones and are selected from: maize, sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, teff, rice, bean, groundnut, soybean, pigeon pea, chick pea and cowpea.
We hope to improve the use of research data to support fertilizer recommendations, and increase the use of spatial information which can then be extrapolated to aid the development of decision tools for farmers.
The project works to improve the relevance of fertilizer recommendations in an ISFM framework for stakeholders, and improve access to information and communication materials for extension workers.
The communication aspects of this project are undertaken by the CABI-led ASHC project which packages information and knowledge emerging from project experience for diverse audiences including, smallholder farmers, extension workers and policy makers.
See a video about the problems of soil fertility and what we intend to do.
Over 3,000 nutrient response functions have so far been sourced from scientific literature, and an average of at least one seasons’ field data has been collected from all 13 countries.
The data from Uganda has been used to develop practical decision support tools including a fertilizer optimization tool (or FOT). This computer based tool advises farmers on how much fertilizer to use to maximize their profits, and it is tailored to their local conditions. More than 400 extension workers and Community Knowledge Workers (or CKWs) have been trained on its use.
More than 10 scientists have been trained to use their own data to develop similar tools suitable for different agro-ecological zones in their countries.
Working with Grameen foundation, an FOT mobile app has been prepared, and the project team have developed a paper based FOT in Uganda.
In the future we aim to:
- adapt the paper based FOT and the mobile and app for other countries
- undertake a follow-up study to assess the ease of use, applicability of the tool by the extension workers and the CKWs
- complete field trials and develop an FOT for the remaining countries
- write a technical handbook on guidelines for developing fertilizer recommendations
We also want to develop appropriate communication materials for both field practitioners and farmers. These will be developed in a participatory way in order to build the capacity of partners and local stakeholders through the process.
See a video we've produced on the tool.
Coordinator - Development, Communication and Extension
Global Director, Knowledge for Development
Finance Officer - projects
Data Manager – OFRA
Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist - OFRA
Communication and Extension Scientist
Regional Coordinator – West Africa Centre