Sustain Africa - increasing access to affordable fertiliser at scale


As fertiliser prices continued to spike due to the Russia/Ukraine conflict, iSDA joined the Sustain Africa initiative in 2022 to increase African farmers’ access to affordable fertiliser.

The initiative is a partnership between multiple organisations including the International Fertilizer Association, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, African Fertilizer, Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) and AGRA. It has already targeted 1.5 million farmers across the continent.

A great challenge when it comes to fertiliser use in Africa is the lack of precision in delivering the correct chemical formulation needed for each patch of farmland. Not all soils are formed or managed equally.

iSDA’s role in the Sustain Africa initiative has therefore been to deploy our app Virtual Agronomist to tackle this issue. The system was created to provide individual farmers in Africa, who usually do not have access to lab testing, the ability to assess the soil properties of their farmland and provide nutrient management plans for sustainable increases in crop yield.

This time around, iSDA scientists used Virtual Agronomist’s predictions to advise on the best fertiliser formulations and quantities for a targeted geographic area – providing a smarter, cheaper, and more environmentally-friendly way for planning at scale.

They did this by combining rainfall data with region-specific soil properties from iSDAsoil along with data on farming systems and typical yields and practice obtained from local agronomists, and detailed maps of where each crop is grown. They were then able to calculate the fertiliser nutrient requirement for specific crops in specific regions.

The pilot was done for the Mozambican provinces of Manica and Sofala where iSDA provided an advisory on ideal fertiliser formulations and amounts for three types of maize.

Sustain Africa partners were then able to import accurate amounts of fertiliser and coordinate the supply of the appropriate donated or discounted fertiliser blends in the chosen countries, including arranging for blending at national facilities where required.

“We found that the most suitable blends for basal application for the targeted provinces were not currently available on the market, which would risk nutrient losses because they’d be over-applying some nutrients. We were then able to recommend the best actions to take by modelling different scenarios,” said iSDA Chief Scientist, Keith Shepherd.

Though Virtual Agronomist was created to give field-specific information to individual farmers, iSDA’s solution for the Sustain Africa initiative demonstrated that it can be used for similar larger-scale projects that require smarter targeting.

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