Zimbabwe: Micro-dosing fertilizer boosts yield despite drought (African Renewal)

August 29, 2016
A translation for this article is available in French

Phillip and his wife Simnai Tshuma stand in their field of sorghum, amidst plants which stand higher than their waist.

Zimbabwe experienced a severe drought this year, but the Tshumas, who live in the town of Hwange, have still managed to harvest 50% more than last year thanks to a special fertilizing technique: micro-dosing.

Micro-dosing uses just a fraction of the recommended application rate for fertilizer. Mr. Tshuma applied eight to 10 kilograms of fertilizer to each hectare of his farm. He places the fertilizer directly in the planting hole.

The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, or ICRISAT, provides support to farmers who try micro-dosing. ICRISAT says that micro-doses can be as small as six grams—about a full bottle cap or a three-finger pinch.

The organization says that micro-dosing can further improve soil fertility if combined with using manure. Farmers can dig a small hole before the rain starts, then fill it with manure. When the rains begin, they can add fertilizer and seeds to the hole, so the moist soil encourages root growth.

In the last decade, many African leaders have recommended increased use of both organic and synthetic fertilizers to boost crop yields amidst declining soil fertility.

Fertilizers provide important nutrients to the soil so that plants can grow healthy and strong. Organic fertilizers are made from plant- or animal-based materials, such as manure, leaves, and compost. They release nutrients slowly over a longer period of time. Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured and provide nutrients more quickly.

Mr. Tshuma says that the small amount of fertilizer he uses in micro-dosing gives him a good return for less money. Fertilizer, and particularly synthetic fertilizer, can be expensive. Mr. Tshuma says he would need to spend more than $300 per season on synthetic fertilizer if he applied 50 kilograms per hectare. Instead, he applies just one-fifth of that amount.

Last season, Mr. Tshuma earned about $350 in profit from his harvest of maize and small grains. He plans to spend one-third of that amount on fertilizer to ensure a good harvest next season too.

To read the full article on which this story is based, Innovative use of fertilizers revives hope for Africa’s Green Revolution, go to: http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/august-2016/innovative-use-fertilizers-revives-hope-africa%E2%80%99s-green-revolution

For more information on micro-dosing from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, download this PDF: http://www.icrisat.org/impacts/impact-stories/icrisat-is-fertilizer-microdosing.pdf

Photo credit: Busani Bafana