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Working in partnership to improve fertilizer use within an integrated soil fertility management framework

Optimising Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) was a project led by CABI which ran from July 2013 to July 2017

The project was a partnership between CABI, the University of Nebraska Lincoln and National  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 aim of the project is to contribute to improved efficiency and profitability of fertilizer use within the context of integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices.

The project was managed by George Oduor, from CABI. Professor Charles Wortmann of the University of Nebraska Lincoln (the OFRA science coordinator) led on the research effort and ensures the efficacy of the science. More information on OFRA team and the roles they carried out can be found on the ASHC/OFRA team page.

OFRA book

In March 2017 the project published a 228 page book Fertilizer Use Optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa to share the findings of the OFRA project. The publication is free to download from the ISFM materials library developed by the Africa Soil Health Consortium.

OFRA Reports

We worked through partnerships to share data 

OFRA worked in Burkina Faso (l’institut de l’environnement et de recherches agricole), Ethiopia (Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research), Ghana (Soil Research Institute), Kenya (Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Institute), Malawi (Department of Agricultural Research Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security), Mali (Institut d’Economie Rurale),  Mozambique (National Agricultural Research Institute), Niger (Institut National de Recherche Agronomique du Niger), Nigeria (Institute for Agricultural Research) , Rwanda (Rwanda Agriculture Board), Tanzania (Mlingano Agricultural Research Institute), Uganda (National Agricultural Research Laboratories)  and Zambia (Zambia Agricultural Research Institute). National agricultural research and extension systems conducted field research on the main food crops which included maize, sorghum, pearl and finger millet, teff, rice, cassava, beans, groundnuts, soybean, pigeonpea, and cowpea across a range of agro-ecological zones.

Data from relevant past research was collated together with findings from on-going research trials in a common database. This data was used to develop fertilizer guidelines, that maximise profitability of fertilizer use, within an ISFM framework. This database is managed by Martin Macharia at CABI.

Click here to access the OFRA database



We developed practical tools

The data collected was used to develop practical decision support tools including fertiliser optimisation tools. The fertilizer optimisation tools provide advice on how much fertiliser a farmer should use to maximise their profits, tailored to their individual situation.

74 computer-based fertilizer optimisation tools, or FOT, (running on Excel) and paper-based tools have been developed by the national research teams supported by University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The paper-based tools do not have the interactive of the Excel tool, instead they rely on three levels of financial investment. These tools cover 66 discrete agro-ecological zones.

The team at CABI, supported by an Oxford-based company called White October are working on the development of an app for android devises such as smart phones or tablets to make the FOT more readily available in Africa. 

Country by country resource summary:


10b broadcasting NH4 sulphate DSC_0816

We share knowledge

OFRA worked closely with the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC), another CABI-lead project that is disseminating information on integrated soil fertility management in sub-Saharan Africa.

ASHC worked with partners in the OFRA project to package information and knowledge emerging from project experience for diverse audiences including, small holder farmers, and extension and policy makers.

A new 228 page book Fertilizer Use Optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa has been published by CABI to share the findings of the OFRA project. The publication is free to download.

Extension training materials in English and French were also developed

Communication materials for training and extension were developed in participatory way to build capacity of partners and local stakeholders in the process. Harrison Rware leads on monitoring and evaluation in the project.

What the funder said:

Rebbie Harawa, Interim Head, Farmers’ Solution Program, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, in the introduction to Fertilizer Use Optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa stated:

“AGRA is delighted with the success of the OFRA partnership of 13 countries in:

  • developing a strong database of crop nutrient responses while recognizing that more research is needed to address secondary and micro nutrients, intercropping and rotations, and otherwise fine tuning existing information,
  • providing computer and paper Fertilizer Optimisation Tools for 66 recommendation domains
  • effectively applying GIS in sharing research results across recommendation domains and countries
  • capturing in the 17 chapters of this book a great deal of information applicable to fertilizer use optimization within integrated soil fertility management framework, and training many extension staff and other stakeholders, realizing that much more of this is needed to achieve fertilizer use optimization throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

OFRA News link  

  • 10 December 2018 blog Fertilizer Optimization Tool pays dividends for farmers in Uganda A decision support tool that allows an extension agent to take into account a number of the farmers’ circumstances and investment goals to maximize the benefits of fertilizer use on their farms is starting to pay dividends in Molo Sub-County in Uganda – with some farmers reporting a seven-fold increase in yields.
  • 10 December 2018 blog Fertilizer Optimization Tool helps return son to teacher traning school In a previous blog post I outlined how the Fertilizer Optimization Tool (FOT) is paying dividends for farmers – helping them, in some cases, to report a seven-fold increase in their yields. Charles Wafula is a farmer and resident of Buhehe in Uganda who is just one example of how FOT is helping to increase his fortunes and benefit his family…
  • 23 July 2018 blog Smarter fertilizer recommendations Between 2013 and 2017 CABI, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and 13 national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) formed a consortium that explored new ways of delivering smart fertilizer recommendations.
  • 05 July 2017 blog OFRA and the fertilizer data legacy… Following the recent close-out workshop of OFRA we asked Martin Macharia, the projects data manager at CABI, to talk us through the achievement of objective 1 to improve use of research data to support fertilizer recommendations.
  • 27 June 2017 news Fertilizer phone app coming soon … Martin Macharia OFRA data manager set out the challenge of the current fertilizer optimization tool, or FOT, that led them to develop a phone-based application
  • 14 June 2017 news  Fertilizer approach could empower 50m African families Four years of dedicated work by scientists in 13 African countries has resulted in the creation of innovative tools to help farmers maximise their profits from investments in fertilizers. The Fertilizer Optimization Tools (FOTs) were created as part of the Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations for Africa (OFRA) project, funded by AGRA, and coordinated by CABI and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • 22 May 2017 news 1,000+ scientists trained in fertilizer optimization OFRA: The training session for scientists in Nigeria last week, means the Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations for Africa (OFRA) team has trained more than 1,000 scientists from 13 countries in Eastern and Western Africa, on fertilizer optimization approach.
  • 20 May 2017 news 2,450 Extension agents learn fertilizer optimization OFRA: More extension workers can now use the fertilizer optimization approach to advise farmers on more efficient and profitable use of fertilizer in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the awareness raising and capacity building initiatives of the CABI-led Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) project.
  • 20 April 2017 blog Ghana: Fertilizer guidance draws in private sector  Harrison Rware, from the OFRA implementation team, writes a research brief published by OFRA partners in Ghana, the Soil Research Institute (CSIR-SRI), recommends a new approach to fertilizer production and distribution
  • 12 April 2017 blog Martin Macharia talks soil, data, blends and apps The Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) project has had a busy few months. We have just published our book Fertilizer Use Optimization in sub-Saharan Africa. So far over 60 copies have been downloaded from the website and a further 750 copies printed
  • 30 March 2017 news  Optimizing fertilizer use in West Africa download the information on fertilizer and ISFM, based on the research from the 5 participating OFRA countries in West AfricaBurkina FasoGhanaMaliNiger & Nigeria
  • 28 March 2017 news Optimizing fertilizer use in East & Southern Africa download the information on fertilizer and ISFM, based on the research from the 8 participating OFRA countries in East and Southern AfricaEthiopia,  Kenya,  Malawi,  Mozambique, RwandaTanzaniaUganda & Zambia
  • 17 March 2017 news OFRA new book on Fertilizer Use Optimization in Sub-Saharan Africa  Free to download 17-chapter book setting out the principles and approach of fertilizer use optimization, special optimisations and integrated soil fertility management in 13 participating countries in sub-Saharan Africa
  • 16 February 2017 blog  OFRA shares its lessons CABI has been working with AGRA to ensure lessons from OFRA are captured and shared

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Optimizing Fertilizer Recommendations for Africa (OFRA) seeks to increase crop productivity, profitability, and food security in smallholder farming systems in Africa.