Fertilizer management in smallholder farming in sub-Saharan Africa

  • 22nd March 2018
  • by secretary
Nutrient Expert for improved fertilizer recommendations
for maize in sub Saharan Afric
Smallholder farmers who cultivate perhaps only a few hectares of land dominate the agricultural landscape in places like China, India, and sub-Saharan Africa. Increasing their efficiency while reducing their environmental impact are critical steps to ensuring a sustainable food source for the world’s growing population.

Yet sharing best practices with smallholder farmers, who often have limited resources to invest in their livelihoods and who number in the hundreds of millions in China alone, is a daunting prospect.

In a report in the journal Nature, the University of Pennsylvania’s Zhengxia Dou, professor of agricultural systems in the School of Veterinary Medicine, teamed with colleagues from China Agricultural University and other institutions in sharing the successful implementation of a long-term, broad-scale intervention that both improved yields and reduced fertilizer application across China. 

The effort, enacted over 10 years, engaged nearly 21 million farmers and increased yield on average more than 10 percent and lowered fertilizer use between 15 and 18 percent. Overall, the actions netted an increase in grain output with a decrease in fertilizer input and savings totaling $12.2 billion.

To determine the best ways of meeting sustainable productivity demand, researchers in the current study conducted more than 13,000 field trials testing what they call an integrated soil-crop system management program, or ISSM, a model that helps determine which crop variety, planting date and density, fertilizer use, and other strategies will work best in a given climate and soil type. The tests were done with maize, rice, and wheat.

To gain a deeper understanding of the current performance of Chinese farmers, the researchers conducted a survey of 8.6 million farmers from 1,944 counties across the nation.


4R Plant Nutrient Management in African Agriculture: An extension handbook for fertilizer management in smallholder farming systems.

The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) sub-Saharan Africa Program (IPNI sub-Saharan Africa c/o IFDC – East & Southern Africa Division ICIPE Compound Duduville – Kasarani, Nairobi, Kenya) has released 4 years ago (2014, 114 pages) an extension handbook for fertilizer management in smallholder farming in sub-Saharan Africa.

The innovative handbook was developed as a resource for researchers, extension agents, agrodealers and other stakeholders working with smallholder farmers. 
Its purpose is to ensure that researchers and extension agents working with farmers have adequate information required to demonstrate and communicate to farmers the best ways to use fertilizers and other nutrient resources. The handbook provides practical guidelines for best nutrient management based on the principles of 4R nutrient Stewardship: Applying the Right Source of nutrients ta the Right Rate, Right Time and Right Place.