The story of Fertilizer Microdosing in Africa

ICRISAT scientists developed the microdosing technique. This story covers the wide variety of initiatives and organizations
ICRISAT worked with to further test and implement the technology across Africa.

  • Africa

  • Kenya

  • Ethiopia

  • Mozambique

  • South Africa

  • Zimbabwe

  • Malawi

  • Zambia

  • Mali

  • Burkina Faso

  • Niger

  • Ghana

  • Senegal

  • Benin

  • 1994

  • 1996

  • 1999

  • 2002

  • 2003

  • 2004

  • 2005

  • 2006

  • 2009

  • 2011

  • 2012

  • 2013

  • Ongoing


The concept of microdosing was born and on-station trials to develop the technology started in Niger
International Fertilizer Development Center


Institut National de la
Recherche Agronomique
du Niger
  • Encouraging results obtained on-station
  • Led to participative on-farm trials and demonstrations for over 10 years
  • Farmers appreciate the value of soil fertility restoration for crop yield improvement


Testing of microdosing technology was moved on-farm for the first time. This was through the FAO project, Intrant.
Funded by:


Belgium Cooperation Agency


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Project Intrants


Institut National de la
Recherche Agronomique
du Niger


Aquaculture et Development


Programme Cadre de Lutte Contre la Pauvreté


Programme Spécial de Sécurité Alimentaire (at early stages of dissemination)

  • Scaling out started in 1996 in the regions of Dosso, Maradi, Tillaberi and Zinder in Niger through on-farm trials
  • NGOs started over 300 producer groups and/or credit co-ops to provide warrantage
  • Overall impact – Over 15,000 households using microdosing-warrantage system across the Sahel

1999 to date

Warrantage system: started in Niger in 1999 through FAO Project Intrants
Funded by:


within the Ministry of Agriculture in Niger

The Warrantage system is based on the establishment of farmer-based cooperatives or producers’ associations and village savings-credit associations which provide farmer’s access to microcredit.

  • It allows farmers and producer organizations to mortgage their cereals at harvest time to secure a loan in order to carry out their income-generating activities during the off-season, without selling their grains at lower prices
  • Cereal grains and grains of other crops are kept securely in a clean store
  • Development and implementation of the Warrantage system continues to date
  • Designed and initiated the establishment of a network of input shops and inventory credit schemes to increase farmers’ access to fertilizers at affordable prices
  • Improved the financial liquidity of farmers
  • Improved farmers’ income from the sales of their produce at the end of the dry season and by their engagement in a range of income-generating activities during off-seasons
  • Fertilizer use in Karabedji, Niger, rose from 350 kg in 1998 to 3600 kg in 2000 due to the warrantage system
  • Though 2000 was a drought year, microdosing enabled farmers to obtain reasonably good yields and make a profit, while the crops of neighboring farmers using traditional methods failed.



Mr Seydou Boubacar, a 39-year-old-farmer from Bokki, a village 60 kms to the south of Niamey, practices the microdosing technique on his farm. At first, in 2002, he experimented with this technique on a 0.5 ha patch with millet, and got a yield of 570 kg. Previously he had grown millet on 1.5 ha and got just 450 kg. This astonishing increase on just one-third the land speaks volumes!

2002 - 2004

Scaling out in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali
Funded by:

United States Agency for International Development


Institut de l’ Environnement et de Recherche Agricoles du Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso


Association pour le Développement de la Region de Kaya


Fédération Nationale des groupements Naam

Institut d ‘Economie Rurale, Hunger Project - Mali


Association pour le Développement des activités de Production et de Formation

SG 2000

Sasakawa Global 2000

  • Yields of sorghum and millet increased by 44 to 120%
  • Income of farmers increased by 52 to 134% through microdosing and warrantage system
  • 12,650 farm households benefited in the three countries

Another initiative through Project Intrants: was YARBIC/CAPTALISATION with the financial support of the Belgium Cooperation Agency (through FAO) which involved not only Niger but also Burkina Faso

2003 - 2006

Conservation agriculture and microdosing in Zimbabwe
Funded by:

Department for International Development, UK
  • 160,000 resource poor households received at least 25 kg of nitrogen fertilizer and a simple flyer in vernacular explaining how to apply the fertilizer to a cereal crop
  • ICRISAT linked with the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC), from which 12 trade stores received small fertilizer packs (or mini packs) to sell to farmers
Zimbabwe 2003

Training, extension and promotion facilitated under a consortium of donors, working with nine international NGOs and a number of local NGOs

Zimbabwe 2003-2004

Wide scale testing of the microdosing (17 kg Nitrogen ha-1) concept initiated across multiple locations in southern Zimbabwe through relief and recovery programs.

Zimbabwe 2003-2006

FAO also funded another scaling up effort in Niger from 2003-2006. This was in partnership with several NGOs and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture / Tropical Soil Biology Fertility (CIAT/TSBF), within the decision support system project of ICRISAT

2004 - 2005

On-farm trials established across Zimbabwe – results compared with/without fertilizer

2004 - 2009

Scaling out of microdosing and warrantage in Burkina Faso and Ghana
Funded by:




Undertaken within the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), which is now part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water Land and Ecosystems

  • Microdosing technology increased the efficiency of nitrogen-use by 50%

Scaling out of microdosing and Warrantage through Conseil Ouest et Centre Africain pour la Recherche et le Développement Agricoles / West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) Funded by: African Development Bank (AfDB) in Also scaled out fother in Mali, Niger, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

2005 - 2006

  • 26% of farmers practised microdosing in 4 regions.
  • 36% purchased fertilizers from input shops
  • Value Cost Ratio (VCR) was 3.4 due to the use of microdosing
  • 11% yield gains due to input shops
  • 27% yield gains due to microdosing
  • 30-50% grain yield increases in areas with widespread adoption of microdosing
  • Over 170,000 households increased cereal production levels by an estimated 40,000 tons
  • Significant improvement in household food security
Partners are key - Impacts in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa
Funded by:

International Development Research Centre, Canada

1. Partners foster fertilizer use-Multi-institution partnerships are a key element of ICRISAT’s R4D strategy.

2. Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe: Increasing the Impacts from Soil Fertility Research in Southern Africa

  • 200,000 families in Malawi and Zimbabwe significantly improve incomes and food security
More More

Funded by:

International Development Research Centre, Canada
  • Small fertilizer packs became available and began to be used by farmers as these were more affordable by poor farmers
  • Public-private-farmer partnerships for fertilizer availability and access became highly successful in South Africa
  • Such partnerships were partly succesful in Zimbabwe in terms of availability of small fertilizer packs.

2009 - 2013

Scaling out of microdose & warrantage through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)-funded microdosing project in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali
  • Mainstreaming fertilizer microdosing in the three countries
  • Increasing food production
  • Enhancing the capacity of smallholder farmers
1-4 December 2009: Launch workshop of the AGRA Project on Backstopping and coordinating the fertilizer microdosing and inventory credit system
  • 50 participants from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Niger attended
29 November-3 December 2010: AGRA Microdosing Project conducts technical report writing workshop at Niamey, Niger
  • 12 participants from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger attended
6 - 7 October 2010: Field Day at Niamey on the theme “Agricultural research results for better food security in Niger” (soil fertility and microdosing)

2011 - 2013

Zimbabwe Impacts
  • A 50-200% yield increase in sorghum and maize with microdosing
  • Microdosing improved food security in Zimbabwe
  • Research data collected from eight districts suggests a return on investment in microdosing of over 40%
  • But microdosing must be linked to extension support

Impact assessment study of 2011-2012 season in Zimbabwe:

  • ICRISAT investment of US$1 = US$ 5 return to farmers in Zimbabwe
  • 2011-2012: Maize yields double – from 424 kg to 963 kg for those using microdosing
  • Increased food security for women farmers in the Sahel

Overall assessment findings from West and Central Africa (WCA) and Southern Africa

  • Investment in microdosing has unlocked the power of chemical fertilizers in low-rainfall areas
  • Sustaining and expanding the benefits of microdosing will also require efforts to extend microdosing training to under-served areas
  • Extension personnel require further training to serve in these areas
Science-based and sustainable solutions to the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa

Excerpts from the ICRISAT Media Factsheet, August 2011:


Hunger in Niger could have been prevented, scientists say


Scaling out and improvement effort of the microdosing technology through International Development Research Centre/Agricultural Cooperative Development International (IDRC/ACDI) project on microdosing and water harvesting in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Benin.


AGRA targets 360,000 households to be aided with the microdosing technology – well on its way to achievement

December 2012: Governor’s Keynote Address on ICRISAT’s 40th Anniversary celebrations in Zimbabwe – ICRISAT’s work and achievements in Zimbabwe, including microdosing, commended

Participatory testing of technologies for reduced risk (e.g. microdosing, seed priming), increased profitability and stability (e.g., soil and water conservation, forecast based decisions) and enhanced soil quality (e.g., conservation agriculture, agroforestry)

Funded by CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Program


Kenya Agricultural Research Institute

Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research

  • Microdosing technology disseminated in Kenya and Ethiopia
  • Improved soil and water conservation practices propagated to guard against dry spells
  • Locally relevant conservation agriculture practices taught to farmers

For more information on other CCAFS interventions that have a microdosing component:

  • Simulation analysis of factors affecting sorghum yield at selected sites in Eastern and Southern Africa, with emphasis on increasing temperatures More
  • Does conservation agriculture work for smallholder farmers in Africa? New report highlights key points for action. More
  • Small, affordable fertilizer packages could increase yields in a risky business More


Trained in Zimbabwe from the 1990s to 2013

  • 650 lead farmers
  • 241 government extension officers
  • 119 local and international NGO extension officers

2013 training included:
28-30 May: Training program on “Fertilizer microdosing mechanization” at Samanko, Mali, by ICRISAT and IER

  • 22 cereal producers trained

9-13 September: Training workshop on “Conservation agriculture and microdosing”

  • Several personnel from agricultural research and extension departments of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe trained

16-20 September: Training on fertilizer microdosing and warrantage at ICRISAT-Niamey, Niger

  • Eleven participants from Benin, Nigeria and Niger trained
ICRISAT continues to work on microdosing technology to help improve it – through the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) project and others
  • For more information on Microdosing and the HOPE project:
  • For more information on the AGRA microdosing project (part of the Soil health Program of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)) with technical support from ICRISAT) More
Lessons learned:
  • Microdosing has the potential for broad-scale impact on food security for a large section of the poor
  • Multi-million dollar savings through reduced food aid to African countries
  • Extensive crop modeling data indicates gains can be sustained in southern Zimbabwe for many years
  • Importantly, microdosing has encouraged farmers to experiment with alternative improvements in crop management
  • This simple technology is renewing farmers’ interest in exploring new options for technological change.
Selected publications

Bationo A, Lompo F, and Koala S. 1998a. Research on nutrient flows and balances in West Africa: state-of-the art. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 71:19-35.


Hove L, Mashingaidze N,Twomlow S, Nyathi P, Moyo M, Mupangwa W and Masvaya E. (2008). Micro Doses, Mega Benefits Promoting Fertilizer Use in Semi-Arid Zimbabwe A manual for extension staff. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. 23 pp.


Payne WA, Wendt CW and Lascano RJ. 1990. Root zone water balances of three low-input millet fields in Niger, West Africa. Agron. Jour. 82:813-819.

Tabo R, Bationo A, Gerard B, Ndjeunga J, Marchal D, Amadou B, Annou G, Sogodogo D, Taonda J.B.S., Hassane O., Maimouna K. Diallo and Koala, S. 2007. Improving cereal productivity and farmers’ income using a strategic application of fertilizers in West Africa. Pages 201-208 in Advances in integrated soil fertility management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and opportunities (Bationo A, Waswa B, Kihara J and Kimetu J. eds.).


Tabo R, Bationo A, Diallo Maimouna K, Hassane O and Koala S. 2005. Fertilizer microdosing for the prosperity of small-scale farmers in the Sahel: Final report. PO Box 12404, Niamey, Niger: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. 28 pp.

Tabo R, Konlambigue AM and Maatman A. 2005. USAID TARGET project on fertilizer microdosing for the prosperity of small-scale farmers in the Sahel: Training workshop on large-scale transfer (scaling-up) of fertilizer microdosing technology. Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso and Niamey, Niger: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. 28 pp.