Wednesday September 3 2014

We can double or even triple crop yields

By Michael J. Ssali

There is a new effort by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) to double or even triple the crop production of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is following decades of soil degradation which has led to the big food insecurity threat that looms nearly all over the continent.

Simple practices
According to an Agra report, released this month, African farmers typically harvest a tonne of maize from one hectare while in other parts of the world, the farmers harvest up to five tonnes from the same area of land.

The declining yields of crucial food crops like maize, banana and cassava are attributed to failure by farmers to carry out simple practices like rotating crops and using organic and mineral fertilisers.

Five years ago, Agra embarked on a Soil Health Programme dubbed “Integrated Soil Fertility Management” (ISFM) in 13 countries and a network of 1.7 million smallholder farmers.
They were engaged to do “simple things” like mixing organic matter such as crop residues and manure into the soil, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers and planting legume crops like cowpea, soya bean and pigeon pea that naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil.

The report shows that five years after the adoption of the ISFM plan, farmers in Tanzania increased their maize yields from 1.5 tonnes to 3.5 tonnes per hectare while pigeon pea yields increased from 0.6 tonnes to 1.4 tonnes per hectare.

In Malawi, the maize yields increased from 0.7 tonnes to 1.3 tonnes per hectare, while maize yields raised from 1.5 tonnes to 3.5 tonnes per hectare and soya bean from 0.9 tonnes to 1.5 tonnes per hectare in Ghana.

Basing on a 2009 study by scientists at Stanford University, Agra warns that underuse of fertilisers by farmers in Africa is a major impediment to improving soil quality and increasing food production. It is said that African farmers use 10 kilogrammes of fertiliser per hectare on average while the global average is around 100.

More funds
Also highlighted is the recent African Union summit held in Equatorial Guinea, where the leaders renewed their commitment to allocate more funds to agriculture. However, Uganda, on the contrary, has removed tax exemptions on fertilisers and other agricultural inputs in its current budget.