Farmers in Babati District of northern Tanzania had been reluctant to use fertilizers due to a belief, handed down the generations, that inorganic fertilizer ‘kills’ the soil. This myth was born out of a poorly implemented fertilizer scaling exercise decades ago – the ammonium sulfate that was recommended then isn’t good for the soils in Babati because it increases acidity. So most smallholders in the district had been using their limited supplies of manure, rather than mineral fertilizers, to replenish depleted soils. Over the past five years, Africa RISING researchers have invested significant resources to dispel this myth by showing how fertilizers can be an important part of a broader systems approach to getting the most out of the land.
Soils in Babati are deficient in key nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus. The Babati research team conducted farmer participatory research during 2012/13 and 2013/14 to demonstrate the impact of locally manufactured Minjingu fertilizers on the yield of improved maize varieties intercropped with elite pigeon pea variety Mali (ICEAP 00040). Minjingu fertilizers, which are relatively new on the market, are cheaper than other fertilizers such as diammonium phosphate (DAP).
In the first year, three fertilizer treatments were compared with farmers’ traditional practice: Minjingu Phosphate Rock (0% nitrogen, 13% phosphate), Minjingu Mazao (10% N, 9% P) and DAP (18% N, 20% P). In one village (Sabilo), yield gains in response to fertilizer application were 3.8 t/ha for Minjingu Phosphate Rock, 4.1 t/ha for Minjingu Mazao and 4.6 t/ha for DAP, compared with only 0.71 t/ha under farmers’ practice. Farmers’ preference for the fertilizers varied between villages, based on the level of yield increase, fertilizer availability and price.
‘It’s more work to use fertilizer – but it’s worth it’, says Rita Matias, who took part in the fertilizer trials. She reports that she has increased her income by 50% or more, depending on the market. As Rita points out, getting the best out of her investment does take more than just applying the fertilizer – it also needs weeding, correct spacing, and pest and disease control.
As a result of their involvement in the project, several farmers in Sabilo and Seloto Villages have taken up good agricultural practices, including optimal spacing and improved varieties, as well as correct fertilizer application. Mrs Elizabeth S. Miindi and Mr Paulo Yawaki, for example, used DAP and Minjingu Mazao fertilizers with improved maize and pigeon pea seed in 2013/14, and produced 62–75 bags each weighing 100 kg.
This change of mindset on using improved agronomic practices – including fertilizer – is a key step towards increased productivity, income generation and improved livelihoods for farmers in Babati District.
Partners: CIAT; Selian Agricultural Research Institute
This blog post is part of our Partner Spotlight on Africa RISING. The aim of the program is to transform agricultural systems through sustainable intensification of mixed crop livestock systems, a key pathway towards better food security, improved livelihoods and a healthy environment. The program comprises three regional research-for-development projects, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (in West Africa and East and Southern Africa) and the International Livestock Research Institute (in the Ethiopian Highlands). The International Food Policy Research Institute leads the program’s monitoring and evaluation project. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the program as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.
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