What are the factors that drive soil testing and subsequent uptake of soil treatment recommendations by smallholders?
Yields and production of smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa often fail to meet their full potential. One underlying reason for this challenge is poor soil fertility. Soil properties must meet crop-specific nutrient and pH requirements in order to get productive yields, but smallholders often have limited information, for example on the exact type or amount of fertiliser/lime to add to the soil, for growing a particular crop. In Kenya, less than 4% of farmers are aware of the problems with their soil.
Soil analysis is a set of various chemical processes that determine the amount of available plant nutrients in the soil, as well as the chemical, physical and biological soil properties important for plant nutrition, or “soil health”. The content of nutrients in the soil obtained by chemical analysis and the requirements of a certain crop for a certain yield, make it easier to determine the amount of required fertiliser to achieve high and quality yields.
While testing the soil beforehand and knowing how plants will respond can play an important role in reducing this risk, the high cost and lack of access to testing services have been major bottlenecks for smallholders. At the same time, new advances in rapid, low-cost soil analytical techniques, that simply measure light reflecting from a soil sample are reducing the cost of measuring soil properties. One such scanner is AgroCares Near InfraRed (NIR) soil scanner in Kenya, which gives farmers real-time information on the nutrient status of their soil. An app translates the soil data on the spot into fertiliser recommendations for the selected crops.
LEARNINGS AND OPPORTUNITIES
We conducted a pilot program to test uptake of AgroCares soil testing kits, by making the scanner available at selected iProcure depots and testing different customer journeys/sensitization models. Our findings show that:
- Farmers perceive soil testing as a high-value service, and this is correlated to the perceived and actual cost.
- Human touch is critical to the process; farmers who were in touch with agents were 3 to 4 times more likely to implement their recommendations and more likely to recommend soil testing to their friends respectively
- Farmers are motivated to test by fear of bad harvests or to diagnose problems with their current practices
- Youth are more than 1.2 times more likely to take up soil testing than older farmers but women are more likely to implement recommendations than men
- Social networks and professional support services are both important sources of information for farmers and trust drives active use.
Muthoni Mugo, MErL Program Officer, AgriFin Accelerate.