By Alfred Nyakinda

A new phone application created to help low income African farmers correctly plan the planting and fertilization of crops has received an upgrade improving its efficiency.

The Fertilizer Optimization Tool (FOT) is designed to help small scale farmers maximize the return on investment in fertilizer based on what they can realistically afford. It was developed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln in partnership with the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

The tool, available in countries in west, central, east and southern Africa, works by recommending to farmers the exact amount of fertilizer they need based on crop value, size of land, nutrient requirement of crops and the type and number of crops planted.

“There are over 50 million families living in the rural areas of the 13 countries where we have been exploring how to optimize fertilizer investment based on profit maximization,” said George Oduor, deputy director of research at CABI, “with the right delivery partnerships in place, all these families can benefit from this work and achieve greater food security and improved livelihoods.”

The newest upgrade to the app includes an integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) feature and a calibration tool to help farmers apply the right amount of fertilizer.

Using the calibration tool enables farmers to determine how much fertilizer to place over a particular area using commonly available containers such as a bottle tops or matchboxes. ISFM improves soil quality by combining the use of mineral fertilizers, organic matter and locally available soil improvements like lime – while promoting intercropping, agroforestry and crop rotation.

“Farmers think about the crops they wish to grow and what they can afford to spend on fertilizer. The app then makes suggestions about the most profitable way to apply the fertilizer. The Fertilizer Optimizer works even at very low levels of investment and helps farmers to get the best possible returns,” said James Watiti, Coordinator – Development, Communication and Extension at CABI.

A pilot project in Uganda saw farmers increase their yields by up to 700 percent. Farmers benefitted from switching from broadcasting, which involves spreading fertilizer uniformly over a whole field, to banding in which fertilizer is placed in bands close to the plants’ roots.

Agricultural extension officers were also trained on the use of the tool in order to train farmers. “When you use the tool, it will select the most profitable crop on which to apply fertilizer, whether organic or inorganic based on the price of the crop and the price of fertilizer,” said Kaizzi Kayuki of Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organization. “Farmers, extension agents and agro-input dealers, people selling fertilizers, they have limited knowledge of fertilizers.”

In offering free advice to low income farmers, the app seeks to help smallholders maximize their profitsas well, rather than only maximizing their yields, because it also considers the current market value of crops in its calculations. It has the ability to function offline, updating itself when an internet connection becomes available. Contacts: w.coles@cabi.org

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