OFRA progress report
Optimising Fertilizer Recommendations in Africa (OFRA) is an integral part of the ASHC that seeks to change the way that fertilizer recommendations are produced and promoted to smallholder farmers in Africa. Using fertilizer response data generated by partners in 13 sub-Saharan countries, new recommendations will be developed that place profitability, and not maximisation of production, at the heart of the recommendations.
There are two elements to OFRA:
- A major research component to establish nutrient/crop responses leading to improved fertilizer recommendations and subsequently decision support tools covering all aspects of ISFM (mineral fertilizer, organic inputs and improved seed)
- A major communications effort to increase awareness of the new approach to recommendations and get these adopted at both policy and delivery levels in 13 sub-Saharan countries
Trials and legacy data
With the arrival of the West African planting season, OFRA field trials have now started in most of the participating countries.
Kayuki Kaizzi, the OFRA regional coordinator for East and Southern Africa, has visited Kenya and Rwanda while Manam Nouri the West African coordinator, visited Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria. These visits have helped establish the field trials,including the ISFM elements, and put in place the protocols for data and sample collection, these will ultimately be analysed at the ICRAF laboratory in Nairobi.
Some West African countries,especially Niger, have struggled to get supplies of the single nutrient fertilisers they need for the trials. This is due to the excessive reliance on NPK for crop production in the region. The Ethiopians found it hard to access the micronutrients they needed for the trial.
Martin Macharia, the OFRA data manager, said: “I have been mapping OFRA trial sites. This is an initial step towards being able to identify other physical locations with enough common characteristics, such as soil type or afro-ecological zones, to be confident to use the research data from one site to inform recommendations for another. This will be more accurate once we have plotted crop distribution and maps.
The mapping process also helps identify potential areas to set up new trials to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. The document for site selection was drafted with input from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and AfSIS (the organisation building capacity to produce digital soi maps in sub-Saharan Africa). There can be as many as 40 trials in each participating country each year; this will mean around 1,500 trials across OFRA. So, work on the database to capture and manipulate this data is a key priority before the data starts coming in.”
In addition to the new trial data, OFRA is also analysing legacy data from previous research. Accessing suitable legacy data has proved challenging. To help the process a concept note has been developed setting out potential benefits for collaboration with the country-level health consortiums in East and Southern Africa. Whilst the principle investigators in each of their countries also used their networks to try to access suitable existing research results and data to build into the OFRA database.
Martin explains: “We have successfully negotiated to access data being complied by the national soil health consortia and a number of other national and international organisations. This means that OFRA will generate and/or interpret a vast amount of data. So my other current priority is to put in place a database – not just for the OFRA project but as tool that anyone wishing to build on our work, can access in the future.”
Good progress has been made on the communications strategy and the OFRA training manuals. Working with the team in Uganda, a manual and policy brief have been drafted and a write-shop in July 2014 helped to shape future communication plans for OFRA.
Work has also been progressing on a phone application to offer smallholders advice on fertilizer optimisation. The Grameen Foundation team is working on a few technical glitches on the mobile phone version of the tool, whilst training continues on the computer-based version.
Given the size and scope of this project, there are significant communications challenges in sharing and gathering information from the teams. This is due to a combination
of poor internet connectivity and fact that the key people involved in the project have to undertake significant amounts of travel to set up the trials.The team is looking for ways to improve communications to and from the field.
Monitoring and evaluation
ASHC has conducted the baseline survey for OFRA. The responses have been analysed and information captured in a draft report. Harrison Rware, who leads on M&E within OFRA, said: “We are making good progress on the M&E. Partners in Burkina Faso and Mali found it hard to share baseline data on-line, and so the first draft of the baseline does not include these countries.
We will use information in the initial application and from the inception report to fill in some of these gaps. We are working closely with our funders AGRA to ensure that we are collecting the baseline data that will best evidence the impact of this project. We are also making good progress on a tool for partners to use in end of year reporting to make M&E more systematic building on the baseline data.”