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East and Southern Africans share soil research data

Over the years large amounts of data have been generated to form discrete crop and soil research initiatives. This research legacy, with standardization and aggregation, can be widely applied in ways never anticipated or envisaged by the scientists who generate the data.

Now, two AGRA-funded programs (OFRA & the East and Southern Africa country level soil health consortia) are working hard to share data and its potential legacy. This will involve build a common database to support integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) research that can build more robust advice for farmers.

OFRA is using research data for evidence-based fertilizer recommendations. IPNI is looking to build a more complete database with and for the country-level soil health consortia for better targeting of ISFM practices . So the two organisations are pooling resources.

Martin Macharia, the data manager for OFRA explained: “OFRA has collected over 7,000 pieces of legacy data from previous research and will be adding to these large amounts of data from 216 crop trials spread over 13 countries. Through country partners, we are planning to share field trial data summaries and all of the legacy data we have collected and sorted. This will help the country-level soil health consortia to improve their own database and their knowledge of what has worked before, especially in neighbouring countries with similar agricultural conditions.

The in-country leadership of the research for OFRA is coming from national agricultural research systems and they are also very important members of the country–level consortia”

The development of the East and Southern African Country Health Consortia is being facilitated by IPNI. Shamie Zingore, from IPNI explained: “I am an advisory group member for the OFRA project and also working with the country-level consortia in East Africa to address data access issues. The potential synergies from working together are obvious to me and I am delighted we have now acknowledged this in a formal agreement which covers data sharing, management and analysis and gives us a framework for collaborative working.”

The consortia have committed to share both legacy and raw data. OFRA, IPNI and the country consortia will also provide access to a pool of experts who can interpret and analyse this data using their experience and implicit knowledge of the research to develop harmonized research material.

Any documents emanating from shared data will be co-authored by CABI, IPNI and country consortia/OFRA teams and credit shared.

In addition to sharing data, there will also be increased collaboration between the consortia and OFRA to develop, for ecological zones within each country, guidelines for fertilizer use and the application of organic inputs.-. We also plan to work together on a suite of products designed to help farmers make better decisions on fertilizer investment and placement.

Rebbie Harawa, from the Soil Health Program in AGRA, said “ This is a win:win situation where scientists and researchers are collaborating across East and Southern Africa to pool information in the best interests of our smallholder farmers. Once the data is interpreted, we have the opportunity to make better recommendations on fertilizer use which acknowledges that profit is important to farmers if we want them to change their farming practices. We cannot ignore profit and only think about food production in East Africa, otherwise changes will not be sustainable in the long-run.”

The final word goes to Martin. “We are very proud to be part of this agreement. OFRA is very keen to work with other organisations, public or private, keen to share data to improve our collective responses to the challenges of declining soil fertility in Africa.”

OFRA project is jointly led by CABI and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The scientific lead is professor Charles Wortmann.