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Martin Macharia talks soil, data, blends and apps

12 April 2017: 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. This will mean that all our partners will have hard copies of the publication to help them promote the important work they have been doing to create fertilizer optimization tools and the lessons that this has generated.

The OFRA partners have developed Fertilizer Optimization Tools (FOTs) for all 13 participating countries. There are now 65 FOTs covering a wide variety of agro-ecological zones. We are also starting to see commercial exploitation of the data that drives these tools. For example, in Ghana new fertilizer blends are being proposed that will respond to the nutrient requirements in the different agro-ecological zones. This is a big step forward from a blanket approach to fertilizer recommendations.

Each of the country partners is looking at how to increase use of the FOTs. Therefore training and familiarisation work with NGOs, agro-dealers and especially extension teams is going on. However, one of the limiting factors of the current FOT approach is the need for a computer to work out the optimal mix of fertilizers to be applied to the specific crops. Smart phones are becoming increasingly common in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that developing an app for mobile phones is an obvious solution. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the scientific lead for this project, has agreed to licence the use of the algorithms (developed in OFRA) that drive the optimization approach. This cleared the way to commission an app preloaded with information from menu agro-ecological zones in 13 countries.

The project has generated a great deal of data which we are in the process of uploading.

The data comes in a number of forms. We initially relied on legacy data from past research which yielded 5,500 crop yield response to different fertilizers. However these have been substituted by data  from 591 fertilizer response trials conducted by our partners.

Partners also took soil samples in each of the fertilizer response trials. These samples are being analysed by our partners at The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi. Now the analysis of the samples from the 2014-2015 growing seasons are completed the team will complete the work on the 2015-2016 samples. The information gained from these samples will also be added to the database.

There is also data from the fertilizer optimization trials. So far data from 591 trails have been added to the database.  Once we have the remaining data from Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique we anticipate the database will hold records of over 600 OFRA funded trials.

We have also been reviewing suitable legacy data. This data falls into two categories priority crops – mainly the staples crops – and other crops such as vegetables and cash crops. So far the data has been cleaned  and added to the database. A total of 7,954 priority crops [crops aligned to the trials] have been included and if you include the non-priority crops there are around 10,000 records.

If anyone has any need for further information about any of the subjects covered in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact me.

OFRA is funded by AGRA.

African Journal of Agricultural Research Sept 2016  Fertilizer use optimization approach: An innovation to increase agricultural profitability for African farmers H. Rware (1)*, C. Kayuki (2), M. Macharia (1 ) and G. Oduor (1) (1)Centre for Agriculture Bio science International, Uganda. (2)National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda

OFRA book on Fertilizer Use Optimization – high res

OFRA book on Fertilizer Use Optimization – low res

Individual book chapters can also be downloaded: Chapters on East and Southern Africa  and  Chapters on West Africa