“Supporting knowledge-sharing on ISFM for increased productivity”
Poor soil fertility is a key constraint to improving farm productivity and farmer livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). After several decades of emphasis on biological approaches to soil fertility improvement (in part because mineral fertilizer availability was itself a major constraint), there is now widespread recognition of the need to integrate increased mineral fertilizer use with other aspects of soil fertility management, particularly integrated soil fertility management (ISFM).
The Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to improve access to effective and appropriate materials regarding ISFM in the public and private sectors – from policymakers to university lecturers, extension workers, input suppliers and farmers. These extension materials can take a variety of formats including print, radio, video documentaries, television broadcasts and locally staged dramas. ASHC has drawn upon the expertise of a Technical Advisory Group comprised of 14 experts in matters related to agronomy, soil science, communication development, gender and policy.
Joining IFDC as ASHC collaborators are Advanced Research Institutes; the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and AGRA’s Soil Health Program, in particular; the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS); the CAB International (CABI) Information and Communications Technology and Knowledge Management (ICT-KM) Program; the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI); National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES); and farmers, educators and media service providers.
Two IFDC staff are members of the Technical Advisory Group and are also providing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) services to ASHC. IFDC is responsible for leading assessments of the project processes, collecting views from stakeholders in a structured manner and conducting formal evaluations to assess the value of the communications products and how they contribute to outcomes.
In Ghana, ASHC, AGRA and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) hosted three intensive write-shops in July 2012 that convened multi-disciplinary teams of grantees, local graphic artists, radio and video producers and representatives of extension organizations for the purpose of designing, field testing, reviewing and adapting ISFM extension materials. The write-shops focused on structuring ISFM information in ways that make the associated technologies easier to understand and implement. This approach will increase the use of soil health improvement techniques by farmers in Ghana. The first write-shops were held in the Northern, Ashanti and Volta regions.
IFDC and ASHC are promoting approaches to improved crop health in Ghana through ISFM and AGRA is promoting improved seed technologies. The partners identified priority ISFM technologies that are ready for dissemination or that are already being disseminated and need to be scaled up in the three cropping systems of Ghana – maize/rice/soybeans (Northern Region), cassava/maize/soybeans (Ashanti Region) and rice/maize/cowpeas (Volta Region).
Currently MoFA uses extension approaches, as well as radio and television, to disseminate information to farmers in Ghana. The Ministry has been using the agro-link radio program to publicize agricultural initiatives and this channel could be an avenue for disseminating ISFM technologies. Radio messages are effective to reach farmers who cannot read but are difficult to reproduce in all of the languages and for all partners.
The ASHC project began in January 2011 and ends in June 2014. It is being coordinated by CABI, an international science and agriculture organization, through their Africa team. For more information about the Africa Soil Health Consortium, go to http://www.cabi.org/ashc/.
Map: Courtesy of CABI
[Information current as of September 2012.]