In Zambia, crop production continues to be an important source of food and nutrition security and income for smallholder farmers. However, crop yields have stubbornly remained too low to support livelihoods. For example, smallholder farmers’ maize yields average slightly above two metric tons per hectare. In contrast, the potential yield when appropriate soil and crop management practices are applied with good quality inputs, such as improved seed and fertilizer, is more than eight metric tons per hectare.
Smallholder farmers in the country have been using blanket fertilizer recommendations developed almost five decades ago, with limited consideration for the variations in agroecological conditions. This has contributed to sustained low crop yield response to fertilizer and, ultimately, low productivity growth.
The lndaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), with seed resources from Sida through the Embassy of Sweden in Zambia and working in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners, has developed a knowledge-sharing and awareness-raising campaign dubbed “Farmer Know Your Soil: The Path Towards Increased Productivity and Profitability.” The main objective of the campaign is to share best practices in soil management with smallholder farmers in order to improve crop productivity and farm profitability.
This is motivated by the realization that the foundation for efficient fertilizer use is determining the status of the soil and its needs.
This aligns well with the SOILS-Space to Place (S2P) initiative, implemented by IFDC and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, which aims to develop a country-level fertilizer recommendation decision support tool for delivering hyperlocalized soil fertility recommendations to resource-constrained smallholder farmers.
With support from IFDC, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and other local and international partners, including the private sector, IAPRI held a national launch of the Farmer Know Your Soil campaign on August 29, 2023, in Lusaka, Zambia.
Also in attendance were traditional leaders, smallholder farmers, and agriculture students from universities and colleges. The launch was officiated by Geoffrey Chomba, Deputy Country Representative of Zambia for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
IFDC was represented by Dr. WiIson Leonardo, Regional Scientist, and Dr. Brian Mulenga, Policy Economist. Leonardo thanked IAPRI for inviting IFDC and CIMMYT to participate and reiterated the importance of soil fertility and health in improving the productivity and welfare of smallholder farmers not only in Zambia, but throughout region and continent.
He also highlighted the synergies between the Farmer Know Your Soil campaign and IFDC’s SOILS-S2P initiative, which is working closely with the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and the Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative (AID-I) being implemented by CIMMYT.
The SOILS-S2P initiative and AID-I aim to scale up the use of good agricultural practices, including soil fertility and health, quality seed, and advisories, for accelerated results and impacts. The Farmer Know Your Soil campaign presents a significant opportunity for collaboration between IFDC, CIMMYT, and IAPRI in promoting productivity-enhancing technologies and practices for yield and profit optimization in the smallholder production system in Zambia.