19 July 2013
No. 1580

Microdosing: Changing lives of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe

Small microdoses of fertilizer in combination with small amounts of manure and improved crop varieties can lead to greater yields. Photo: ICRISAT file photo

Microdosing is a practice that encourages farmers to use small amounts of fertilizer at critical stages of crop growth to maximize yields. In sub-Saharan Africa where most farmers are unable to invest in fertilizer, triggering a cycle of soil nutrient depletion, low productivity and hunger, microdosing is now leading to large benefits in yields and incomes in several countries, particularly in Zimbabwe.

A recent impact assessment study showed that for every US dollar that ICRISAT has invested in the microdosing technology, farmers in Zimbabwe have reaped a return of five US dollars. This result was shared at a seminar held on 4 July in Harare, Zimbabwe organized by ICRISAT’s Impact Assessment Office, primarily aimed at determining how microdosing is now changing lives of smallholder farmers in the country.

The meeting also served as a forum to discuss steps to encourage a more favorable policy environment to support and mainstream the microdosing technology. Participants included representatives from Zimbabwe’s Department of Agricultural Technical & Extension Services (AGRITEX) – Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development; International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT); and the private sector.

Delivering the opening address, Mr Reston Muzamhindo, Acting Permanent Secretary for the Agriculture Ministry, said, “ICRISAT has worked in partnerships to help farmers get the most of the resources available to them. Technologies like conservation agriculture and microdosing are examples of this.”

Dr Andre van Rooyen, ICRISAT’s Country Representative for Zimbabwe said, “We have worked with microdosing over the last ten years and studied it intensively. Now it is time to look at what we are going to do next. We need to decide how microdosing fits in our arsenal of tools against poverty.”

Dr K Mazvimavi speaking at the seminar held in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

Dr Kizito Mazvimavi, Head of ICRISAT’s Impact Assessment Office, explained that “impact assessments look for evidence of technology adoption and diffusion. The study assesses household level impacts on food security, nutritional security, poverty reduction, women’s empowerment and parity, productive efficiency and risk reduction.”

The study was conducted by Jayne Stack, an independent consultant; Brighton Mvumi from the University of Zimbabwe; and Alex Winter-Nelson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The results of the study showed that those households who were exposed to the microdosing technology on average doubled their maize yields (963 kg for those exposed vs. 424 kg for those not exposed) in the 2011-12 season.

The results also revealed the importance of AGRITEX, Zimbabwe’s extension services, in spreading the technology to farmers. Around 74% of farmers surveyed said that AGRITEX was an important source of information on microdosing. Zimbabwe’s input supply program, which attempts to improve poor farmers’ access to fertilizer, is also having an impact, as close to 60% of the plots were fertilized using inputs obtained by the input supply program. Fewer than 24% of farmers who used fertilizer bought it at full price. However, this reduced cost might have long-term implications as farmers might not be willing to buy or able to afford fertilizer at full cost should the subsidies and relief programs end.

The farmers appreciated the seminar and the discussions included questions on small packs, the benefits of using ammonium nitrate and basal fertilizer and farmers’ preferences. The activity has proven the importance of the technology as Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers attempt to move from reliance on food and input subsidies to self-sufficiency.

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CGIAR, ICRISAT participate in Africa Agriculture Science Week

IFAD President Dr Kanayo Nwanze addressing the general assembly in Ghana. Photo: CCAFS

Strong and dynamic partnerships will be key to addressing the challenges of poverty and food security in Africa, said Dr Frank Rijsberman, Chief Executive Officer of the CGIAR Consortium, speaking at the opening session of the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW) in Accra, Ghana.

The 6th AASW being held on 15-20 July hosted by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa
(FARA) in collaboration with the Government of Ghana, presents a platform for the CGIAR system to showcase how research-for-development has been making a difference by improving livelihoods, food security, and health in sustainable ways in Africa.

ICRISAT along with other CGIAR Centers and Research Programs across the CGIAR Consortium is actively taking part in the AASW. The theme of the conference, Africa feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation, has convened scientists and experts to discuss the role of agricultural science and innovation in finding and strengthening local solutions to the urgent food security challenges in Africa.

In his statement to the general assembly titled “African agricultural development: opportunities and challenges,” International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) President Dr Kanayo F Nwanze acknowledged, among others, the impact of ICRISAT’s fertilizer microdosing in increasing yields using low cost and existing technologies. “Small increases in fertilizer use in sub-Saharan Africa can produce dramatic improvements in yields. We have seen good results from a fertilizer microdosing technique developed by ICRISAT and its partners, using a bottle cap system so farmers can measure out small, affordable amounts of fertilizer. And in addition, greater use of high-yielding seed varieties could have great benefits,” he said.

More than 50% of CGIAR’s funding goes towards improving food security in Africa through a solutions-based research approach.  Its work in the region is more critical than ever, given its proven track in translating its research findings into practical home-grown solutions to associated challenges.

Representatives from 11 CGIAR Research Centers and 6 CGIAR Research Programs participate in key events to demonstrate their contributions to Africa’s agricultural progress.  This includes side events, a number of which are being hosted by CGIAR Research Centers and Research Programs, such as a plenary session and communication and social media activities. ICRISAT case and impact stories have in fact been featured prominently in The FARA – AASW Blog (http://aasw6.wordpress.com), a social reporting forum for the event.

Representing ICRISAT at the event are West and Central Africa (WCA) Director, Dr Farid Waliyar;  Country Representative for Malawi Dr Moses Siambi; and WCA Regional Information Officer Ms Agathe Diama.

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ICRISAT-HOPE team draws proposal for project extension

The HOPE project team and national representatives during the meeting to plan the future of the project. Photo: O Ndolo, ICRISAT

With the ICRISAT-led HOPE project’s current no-cost extension phase coming to an end in December 2013, the project team met from 1-4 July in Naivasha, Kenya to discuss and formulate activities to be carried out in all the participating countries following this phase. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project was granted an 18-month extension (January 2014 – June 2015) of its current phase, with some additional funding, to carry out specific tasks.

The meeting, attended by project scientists from all three regions of ICRISAT and project coordinators from 9 of the 11 participating countries, was led by Project Coordinator Dr George Okwach; Research Program Director – Dryland Cereals, Dr Stefania Grando; and Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Dr Said Silim.

Welcoming the participants, Dr Okwach explained that in granting the project this extension, the foundation expected the team to: (1) Complete all pending activities in phase I and tie up all loose ends that may still exist after the end of the no-cost extension period;  (2) Identify and address any knowledge gap that may exist between what is now known, and the work that may be expected to be done in HOPE phase II; (3) Provide opportunity for an appropriate transition plan for countries that will not be part of HOPE phase II; (4) Develop a proposal for HOPE phase II; and (5) Formulate and put in place appropriate structures for HOPE phase II.

During the meeting, Dr Grando stressed the importance of the task ahead, and underlined the need to work as a team and to see the national partners taking the lead in formulating the activities to be carried out in their respective countries.

The role and place of the national programs was also emphasized by Dr Silim, outgoing Principal Investigator, recognizing the national coordinators as equal partners of the project. He urged them to think of the needs of all project objectives carried out in their respective countries.

Dr F Mgonja presenting a memento to Dr S Silim.
Photo: O Ndolo, ICRISAT

Planning the new activities, the team was split into three regional groups – West and Central Africa (led by Dr Tom Hash), Eastern and Southern Africa (led by Dr Chris Oduori, Project Coordinator for Kenya and Dr Henry Ojulong of ICRISAT-Nairobi), and South Asia (led by Drs Ashok Kumar and SK Gupta). Each group discussed and formulated plans across all relevant objectives carried out in the region. A team composed of Drs Dave Harris, Alastair Orr, Stefania Grando and George Okwach was constituted and mandated to finalize the project proposal and ensure submission to the Gates Foundation by 1 August.

The group also bid farewell to Dr Silim, and welcomed Dr Grando as the project’s new Principal Investigator. Accepting a farewell card signed by those present and representing the entire project team, which was presented by project coordinator for Tanzania, Dr Fridah Mgonja, Dr Silim thanked the team for working hard in phase I and making the project a success.

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Pigeonpea revived in Northern Malawi

Dr S Silim shows farmers in Karonga how to harvest pigeonpea. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

Pigeonpea in Malawi’s northern district of Karonga was all but forgotten. The local variety took close to 9 months to mature and farmers only grew small areas for their own consumption. With the recent release and promotion of the medium-duration variety ICEAP 00557, locally known as Mwaiwathualimi, the situation has changed. ICEAP 00557 matures in 5-6 months and yields much more than the long-duration pigeonpea.

Dr Said Silim, ICRISAT’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, recently visited Malawi to check on the progress of the crop in the country and to listen to farmers’ views. Dr Silim was accompanied by Dr Moses Siambi, Country Representative for Malawi; Mr Felix Sichali, Program Manager for the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project funded by Irish Aid; and Mr Teddie Chirwa, Scientific Officer at ICRISAT-Lilongwe.

The team visited the offices of Mr Dan Yona, Program Manager for Karonga Agricultural Development Division, who thanked ICRISAT for the successful partnership. “We have always worked in partnership with ICRISAT and I am glad we work so closely. What we do is evidence-based so you should be able to see for yourselves the work that has been done.”

Appreciating Dr Silim’s visit, Dr Geoffrey Kananji, national pigeonpea breeder for Malawi, said: “The excellent collaboration between ICRISAT and our department has been there from the beginning until today and we have shown that this can make a huge difference.”

The team visited seven farmers in the area, some of whom were seed producers. Mr Raphael Bellings Mwalughali, a farmer from Lughali village was pleased with the performance of the new variety.  “When I look at the rainfall in this place I think that this variety is well suited. Even if you plant at a late stage, it does well. It doesn’t wither or dry up and the yield is good,” he elaborated.

Dr S Silim looks at the grain size of shelled pigeonpea and discusses the cooking process and taste of ICEAP 00557. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

Farmers in Karonga who are used to growing the labor-intensive cotton as a cash crop which has an unstable market, are now considering pigeonpea as an alternative. “Cotton started at US$ 0.60/kg and is now US$ 0.45/kg. Last year, my friends sold their pigeonpea for US$ 0.75/kg. That is why I decided to try it this year,” Mwalughali said. The main problem farmers faced this season was the American boll worm, which affects both cotton and pigeonpea.

In a concerted effort to make the seed of the new Mwaiwathualimi variety available to farmers, the project has put up 712 hectares to certified seed production. The seed will be sold under the Malawi Seed Alliance (MASA) brand. The project is also promoting a collective platform approach in the district by forming and working through the Team Karonga Pigeonpea1 (TKP1). This group, which includes ICRISAT, government/extension agencies, and nongovernment organizations, encourages the coordination of activities such as field days and shares market-related information with each other and with the smallholder farmers in the district.

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Sustainable intensification of sorghum and legume system (SLI) project reviewed

Participants of the meeting pose with the family of one of the participating farmers. Photo: P Audi, ICRISAT

The project on sustainable intensification of sorghum-legume based systems (SLI) in Eastern and Central Africa aims to enhance productivity and competitiveness by increasing the utilization of sustainable sorghum-legume system technologies and innovations by smallholder farmers. It is backstopped by the Staple Foods Program of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) in partnership with ICRISAT and national partners in Uganda, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.

The project held its review and planning meeting in Soroti, Uganda on 10-12 July, to review progress on attainment of project outputs in the past year and to plan for implementation of outstanding activities.  The meeting was preceded by a field visit to on-farm trials and demonstrations and farm-level value addition activities to elicit farmer feedback on the impact of the project.

Despite the drought in the March-June cropping season, farmers estimated that sorghum-cowpea and sorghum-green gram cropping systems (due to their adaptation and resilience to drought conditions) yielded 30% more grain than other traditional cropping systems. The Soroti Sorghum Producers and Processors Association (SOSPPA), a 350-member community-based farmers’ association of which 60% are women, has started milling and packaging sorghum-cowpea composite flour for sale in the urban markets and is also making cakes, biscuits, and other products consumed as snacks in schools and urban markets. For better linkages to markets, members expressed the need for agri-business training, better equipment to make and package value-added products and linkages to sources of subsidized credit.

Launching the meeting, Ivan Rwomushana, Head, Staple Foods Program, urged the participants to identify undelivered SLI outputs to be delivered before the end of the project and to compile noticeable gaps for inclusion as activities in the next phase of the project. It was reported that baseline surveys; participatory variety selection (PVS) for improved sorghum varieties, groundnut, cowpea, green grams and dolichos lablab; on-farm demonstrations of adapted varieties; suitable sorghum-legume intercropping systems; soil and water management practices; and Striga control practices were successfully completed in the project countries. Over 2000 farmers have been trained in crop agronomy, postharvest management and in making value-added products while information dissemination and marketing platforms were established in Uganda and Tanzania. Postgraduate training for research staff was on-going in all the countries.

Preliminary results by Jubilee Feeds and University of Nairobi, Kenya in formulating sorghum-legume composite feed for broiler chicken indicated that the sorghum-green gram formulations at 70% and 30% composition, respectively, gave the best growth performance in which the chicken reached market weight (1.5 kg) at 6 weeks with market-preferred quality meat product. ICRISAT has contributed to this by providing germplasm, basic seed and sometimes, foundation seed of adapted varieties, capacity building in agronomic and baseline data analysis and in making postharvest equipment more accessible to lead partner institutions.

It was agreed that policy briefs would be prepared from baseline survey results and secondary information. A platform for sharing SLI project results will also be established and that ASARECA and ICRISAT would initiate a rapid assessment survey to determine the diffusion and uptake pathways for SLI innovations in all project countries before the end of the project. At end of the meeting, NARO’s Dr Robert Olupot of the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute in Serere, Uganda was selected as the new Principal Investigator of the project.

The meeting was attended by 25 participants from ASARECA, ICRISAT, East African Farmers Federation, Jubilee Feeds, Kenya, and lead national partner institutions – National Agricultural Research Organization, Uganda; Agricultural Research Council, Sudan; Department of Research and Development, Tanzania; University of Nairobi, Kenya;  and National Agricultural Research Institute, Eritrea.

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ICRISAT organizes workshop on Agropedia 2.0

Participants of the workshop. Photo: K Veerender, ICRISAT

Agropedia, an open access Knowledge Management platform conceived, developed and deployed in 2009 under the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) consortium led by ICRISAT, has undergone a major revision. The second phase of the project, Agropedia 2.0, has been built by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT K) with support from all consortium partners particularly from ICRISAT.

ICRISAT organized a workshop at the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI), New Delhi on 15 July to sensitize the new partners of the consortium and other volunteer institutes about Agropedia 2.0. About 30 participants from 13 organizations were shown demos, underwent hands-on training and created their own Agropedia.

The workshop was inaugurated by Dr Ramarao, National Director, NAIP, and attended by Dr PS Pandey, National Coordinator, NAIP and Dr Prajneshu, acting Director, IASRI.  Resource persons included a team led by Prof TV Prabhakar (IIT K), Dr LB Hugar (University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur) and Drs NT Yaduraju and Kiran Yadav and Mr Veerender Kambam (ICRISAT).

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