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OFRA workshop on fertilizer decision tools

9-12 February 2015 saw the delivery of an OFRA development fertilizer decision tool workshop in Arusha, Tanzania, bringing together participants from Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

Scientists from these countries will explore the potential of the fertilizer optimization tool (FOT) being developed in OFRA, and work on important issues to address the needs of the different agro-ecological zones in the region. They will also be exploring adjustments that need to be made to the decision tool as a result of information from soil test or ISFM practices.

The AGRA-funded OFRA project anticipates that a number of different decision support tools will be developed to help improve smallholder farmers decision-making about where and how much fertilizer to apply, given their cash constraints.

Harrison Rware explains: “This workshop is important because it will give the scientists very hands on experience in the development and application of a decision support tools the fertilizer optimization tool (FOT).

 They will see how the tool utilizes information from diverse sources to determine robust crop-nutrient response that can be development to provide agro-ecology specific options. These tools can be used for advising farmers on the most profitable ways to add nutrients to their soil based on the farmers own assessment of what crop price will be in the following season.

 At all times the tool aims to maximize farmers profit by maximizing the return on investment on any soil nutrients applied.”

The idea of developing customized fertilizer recommendations based on what smallholders can invest is a major change from traditional approaches, where the fertilizer recommendations tend to be uniform across whole countries or regions and do not consider the farmer’s financial or agronomic situation. These recommendations also tend to be based on maximizing crop production, not the long-term profitability of smallholder farmers. This means that they often do not make economic sense to smallholders and are therefore neither attainable nor sustainable. In the worst cases they are also based on inappropriate fertilizer blends far removed from the optimum blend of nutrients the soil and crops need. These are do not consider the farmer’s financial or agronomic situation

One of the specific features of the OFRA project is that it looks at the impact of integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) on fertilizer investment decisions. ISFM attempts to optimize, in economic terms, the use of organic and chemical nutrient sources, together with other good agronomic practices.. These solutions will vary between locations and even between different parts of a smallholding and they will ISFM attempts to optimize use of organic and chemical nutrient sources, together with other good agronomic practices.