25 September 2019 – CABI has highlighted the benefits of digital agriculture, through the Fertilizer Optimization Tool, at the CODATA 2019 Conference in Beijing, China, including how the tool has increased some farmers yields seven-fold in Uganda.
Henry Mibei and Lucy Karanja from CABI’s Kenya office in Nairobi, told delegates that the agricultural sector is facing multiple challenges – including a growing demand for food as the world’s population is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050 – that are seriously affecting land degradation in Africa and require efficient approaches to increase productivity.
CODATA 2019, whose focus this year was ‘Towards next-generation data-driven science: policies, practices and platforms,’ brought together data specialists from around the world intent on examining the global developments in how science is being transformed by new digital technologies and how their potential can be unlocked to help with issues such as food security.
Mr Mibei said the rate of fertilizer application in Africa is only on average 10kg per hectare compared to over 200kg per hectare in Europe and America. For Africa to reduce poverty, hunger and increase livelihoods for millions of smallholder farmers it must improve fertilizer use, he added.
Mr Mibei said, “Land degradation is particularly severe in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Soils are poor in crop nutrients and unless nutrients are replaced, soils become depleted, causing the yields and crop quality to decline.
“Fertilizer Optimization Tool enables farmers to maximise net returns from their investment in fertilizer use while reducing risks compared with conventional fertilizer recommendations. In fact pilot work on the CABI Fertilizer Optimizer app in Uganda has shown that some farmers realised up to a seven-fold increase in yields.”
The CABI Fertilization Optimizer app, one of the assets within the set of Fertilizer Optimization Tools, is designed to help resource constrained farmers to maximise the return on investment on fertilizer, based on what they can realistically afford.
Using funding from the BBSRC Global Challenges Research Fund, the app was recently upgraded to make it easier to use by the farmer advisors. The app includes the integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices feature, and a calibration tool which helps farmers to apply the right quantity of fertilizer to their crops.
Mr Mibei added, “The app was developed using outputs of the research conducted in 13 countries and builds on the linear programming concepts developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to determine where the crop-nutrient combination generates the most optimal benefits. The tool also ensures that fertilizer recommendations are made within the Integrated Soil Fertility Management framework, further ensuring cost-effectiveness for farmers.”
Meanwhile, Ms Karanja also helped organize and participated in two sessions – one regarding ‘FAIR and Open Data policies in Asia and the Pacific Regions; Issues, challenges and way forward’ and the other entitled ’2030 SDGs and data driven inclusive innovations-role of marginalised groups.’ In the latter session, Ms Karanja presented a paper ‘Data gathering processes. Who is privileged and who is marginalized?’
Ms Karanja said, “Agriculture as a major source of income in Africa has lagged behind due to a lack of data. However, growth in the mobile industry has brought many opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa improving efficiency in agriculture, health and finance.
“While women, youth and the disabled are among the most marginalized groups, we need to invest in harnessing digital data to not only bring down the barriers causing marginalization but also to ultimately bring about a reduction in poverty and greater food security.”
CABI has also rolled out a programme of training for additional extension workers on the use of the Fertilizer Optimization Tools (FOT) with a target to reaching up to 1600 more farmers in Uganda. Across Africa, over 3,000 extension workers have already been empowered to use the FOTs to advise farmers on how to maximise their profits from investments in fertilizers. This is another opportunity to out scale the FOT across Africa.
A social media campaign was also utilised to help promote the mobile app for FOT across 13 African countries. These are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The CODATA 2019 Conference followed a high-level workshop on ‘Implementing Open Research Data Policy and Practice’ that examined challenges in China and elsewhere in the light of the emergence of data policies and in particular the China State Council’s Notice on ‘Measures for Managing Scientific Data’.
You can see Henry Mibei’s presentation, co-written with H.Rware, ‘Designing User-Centered Decision Support Tools for Agriculture’ and Lucy Karanja’s presentation, co-authored by Stephanie Gakuo, ‘Data gathering processes. Who is privileged and who is marginalized?’ both of which are downloadable from the SCRIBD platform.
Fertilizer Optimizer App
Download the Fertilizer Optimizer app free of charge from the Google Play Store.
Read more about how the Fertilizer approach could empower 50 million African families
Learn more about the Fertilizer Optimization Tool, including videos on how it works, from the Africa Soil Health Consortium website
The original conceptualization and development of the optimization tool was by the university of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jansen J, Wortmann CS, Stockton MC, Kaizzi CK (2013). Maximizing net returns to financially constrained fertilizer use. Agronomy Journal 105 (3) 573-578
The Fertilizer Optimizer tool was built as part of the Optimising Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) project, led by CABI. The project was a partnership between CABI, the University of Nebraska Lincoln, national governments and agricultural research and extension systems in 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. OFRA was supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The development of the original tool into an App was supported by the BBSRC Global Challenges Research Fund (BBS/OS/GC/000014B) through a partnership with Rothamsted Research, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, QED and ICRAF. Version 2 was supported by a second round of funding from the BBSRC Global Challenges Research Fund (BBS/OS/GC/200014A) through a partnership with Rothamsted Research, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and QED.
CABI published two blogs ‘from the field’ showcasing how the Fertilizer Optimization Tool is benefiting farmers – ‘Fertilizer Optimization Tool pays dividends for farmers in Uganda’ and ‘Fertilizer Optimization Tool helps son to teacher training school’.