Effort to confront Africa's soil health crisis helps triple yield
The improvements in crop yields—the increase in the amount farmers are harvesting from the same piece of land—over the past five years have been substantial. Some examples follow:
- In Tanzania, farmers adopting a combination of ISFM practices and new, improved crop varieties more than doubled their maize yields, from 1.5 to 3.5 tons per hectare, while pigeon pea yields increased from 0.6 to 1.4 tons per hectare.
- In Malawi, maize yields more than doubled, from 2 to 4.6 tons per hectare and soybean yields rose from 0.7 to 1.3 tons per hectare.
- In Ghana, maize yields increased from 1.5 to 3.5 tons per hectare and soybean from 0.9 to 1.5 tons per hectare.
A key priority of AGRA's Soil Health Program is to make it easier for farmers to acquire and properly apply mineral fertilizers. While overuse of fertilizers has caused environmental problems in other parts of the world, a 2009 study by scientists at Stanford University warned that underuse of fertilizers by farmers in sub-Saharan was a major impediment to improving soil quality and increasing food production. Faced with high prices—fertilizers in Africa often cost twice as much as they do in other countries—and low supplies, African farmers use on average about 10 kilos of fertilizers per hectare, while the global average is around 100.
According to the AGRA analysis, the organization's efforts to help rural agrodealers stock more fertilizers have enabled smallholder farmers to acquire an additional 180,000 tons of fertilizer. If used as part of a broader soil management program, that's enough fertilizer to help about 1.8 million farmers revive 3.5 million hectares of depleted land and triple the amount of cereals they produce. AGRA also is encouraging innovative approaches to fertilizer use by working, for example, with Burkina Faso's Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research (the Institut de l'Environnement et des Recherches Agricoles or INERA) to develop a new machine that applies fertilizer in "micro-doses," adding just a few pellets for each seed.
In addition, AGRA is supporting an innovative effort called the African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), which also includes the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the Agricultural Market Development Trust—Africa (AGMARK). The goal is to develop new fertilizer production, storage and retail operations, with an initial focus on providing an additional 225,000 tons of fertilizer to farmers in three countries—Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania—and to lower prices farmers pay by 15 percent or more.
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