Spreading the word on fertilizer in ZimbabweGlobal Theme on Agroecosystems Report no. 24 uri icon

abstract

  • Next to drought, poor soil fertility is the single biggest cause of hunger in Africa. Despite this, smallholder farmers use very little manure, and less so, the recommended inorganic fertilizers. This is largely due to the input being unaffordable to the majority of smallholders. In drier regions, farmers are also concerned about application risks. In light of this, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is promoting the use of small fertilizer quantities (micro-dosing) that smallholders are more likely to afford and adopt. Although higher rates are known to give higher yields, the marginal returns from the small investment when using lower fertiliser rates are much better. In the 2003-04 cropping season, with assistance from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), a large-scale relief program distributed 25 kg of ammonium nitrate to each of 170,000 small-scale farmers through a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGO). With technical assistance from ICRISAT and a simple fertilizer pamphlet, NGOs established 1,200 on-farm trials across the country to demonstrate the micro-dose approach. In each trial, the farmer selected the cereal crop, and compared results with and without fertilizer. Data were obtained from more than 900 of these demonstrations, and a national survey assessed impacts on the larger group of 170,000 farms. Despite poorer than average rains, micro-dosing increased grain yields by 30 to 50%, and almost every farmer achieved significant gains. The 170,000 households increased their production levels by an estimated 40,000 tons. The program significantly improved household food security, and saved US$7 million in food imports. Many of these farmers are now becoming interested in investing their own resources in fertilizer, but access remains a constraint. The program has started working with fertilizer companies to test strategies for resolving this problem

publication date

  • 2006