A consensus has developed that many of Kenya’s smallholder productivity problems can be traced to poor soil quality and crop nutrition
This phenomenon puts smallholder farmers and extension agents at a particular disadvantage because most do not have the expertise or resources to assess how soil health is affecting the productivity of their crops, the quality of their fodder and the well-being of their livestock.
To address these issues, iSDA has launched its first pilot project in Kenya, in collaboration with Sucastainability and AgroCares. The purpose of the pilot is to help some 25,000 coffee farmers gain much-needed understanding of the nutritional content of their soils, and increase both yield and farm profitability. Information will be gathered across five counties with the aid of a portable digital scanner, supported by smartphone technology and analysis of this information using advanced data analytics techniques.
iSDA’s project manager is supported by other members of the iSDA team, including soil scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre, along with iSDA’s data scientist and agribusiness advisor.
AgroCares is providing the spectral devices and training on their use, along with technical support as needed. Its in-kind contribution includes staff time to support the design of the project, knowledge sharing and interpretation of the data collected during project implementation.
In order to build an effective understanding of the pilot service offering, marketing materials of various kinds have been developed for use in the field. Some of these will highlight the importance of soil testing, and where to find and request soil testing services. iSDA has also produced a short dramatic video aimed at helping farmers appreciate the importance of soil testing and the adoption of recommendations.
Data collection is supported by eProd Solutions and AgroCares platforms. The mobile tools capture geo-tagged field data, and this data interacts in real time with AgroCares cloud-based resources to provide accurate and relevant information to stakeholders.
A back-end application has been developed to allow partners to design and deploy rapid digital surveys without the need for technical expertise or infrastructure. The application has been uploaded onto smart mobile phones and tablets and will be used to geo-tag Village Enterprise Advisors (VEAs), farmers and input dealers participating in the project.
These tools will be used to create a baseline study to benchmark yields and inputs. A reward system will be used to capture information on the best performing VEAs based on agreed indicators. Productivity gains will capture the increase in yields per acre resulting from the application of recommendations made by the spectral analysis device.
Understanding soil health will help farmers improve their crop management practices, including the use of improved agricultural inputs to remedy the deficiencies of the soils on their farms. Better farming techniques will lead to significant improvements in smallholder productivity and profitability, and increased investments by input providers tailored to smallholder needs.
iSDA is currently planning to launch a parallel pilot in Ghana in 2021 using a cloud-based advisory tool that does not require a soil test. These pilots will play a critical role in the development of sustainable and innovative business practices that can be applied on a much broader scale across Africa.