Disruptions in fertilizer access and affordability resulting from post-COVID pandemic supply chain challenges and the Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted vulnerabilities within sub-Saharan African (SSA) agricultural systems. More specifically, reduced fertilizer use as well as poor returns on investment resulting from low fertilizer use efficiency has disrupted production and productivity.
To address these challenges, IFDC’s flagship program – the USAID RFS-funded Feed the Future Sustainable Opportunities for Improving Livelihoods with Soils (SOILS) Consortium – launched the Space to Place initiative in October 2022. This initiative aims to provide localized and improved fertilizer and agronomic recommendations for key mixed production systems in SSA, including maize, cereal-root crops, highland systems, and agropastoral systems.
The primary goal of the Space to Place initiative is to enhance fertilizer use efficiency among resource-constrained smallholder farmers in SSA. This intervention will reduce fertilizer wastage by 60% over the next two-to-three cropping seasons to achieve optimal economic returns and improve productivity. This goal will be achieved through the promotion of targeted site-specific fertilizer and soil management practices for selected crops. The initiative plans to collaborate with various organizations such as ISRIC – World Soil Information, national and international research organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the private sector, and civil society organizations to update and fine-tune fertilizer recommendations using spatially-derived tools, like soil maps. Respectively, the Space to Place initiative aims to empower resource-constrained smallholder farmers in SSA farming systems to make “precision agriculture” decisions based on their own field and economic priorities, utilizing existing soil maps, crops, weather information, on-farm inputs, and decision-support tools.
Improving nutrient use efficiency is crucial, considering the low productivity of many soils in SSA farming systems that are affected by varying physical, hydrological, and chemical constraints. Targeted site-specific soil fertility and soil health recommendations require update-to-date soil maps, soil data and accurate soil information, and soil testing, which can be resource-intensive in terms of time and money. Nevertheless, with the existing maps and information, valuable recommendations can be derived using crop-soil models to assess variability and propose effective solutions.
Take, for example, a partnership between IFDC, WorldVeg, and local collaborators in the USAID RFS-funded Space to Place and CIMMYT-led Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative (AID-I) project. This collaboration is spearheading transformation of the agricultural landscapes in Zanzibar. Through meticulous soil sampling, comprehensive testing, and the establishment of a soil fertility database and mapping, this collaboration combines the expertise and resources of various institutions to drive horticultural innovation and enhance soil fertility management on Zanzibar Island. Implemented in partnership with the local soil mobile testing firm (LSSL) and the Zanzibar Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), this endeavor aims to empower farmers with essential knowledge about soil health and effective management practices to ensure sustainable and optimized horticultural practices. At the core of this initiative is the development of a soil map and an ISRIC-based soil data portal, serving as a centralized repository for vital soil-related information specific to Zanzibar.
By creating the soil map and data portal, this project seeks to provide a valuable resource for farmers, policymakers, and researchers, offering crucial insights for effective soil management and agricultural planning, with a particular focus on the horticulture sub-sector in Zanzibar.
The Space to Place initiative facilitates the delivery of spatially- appropriate soil fertility management recommendations, combining digitized soil maps (Space) with farm-level characteristics (Place) to provide effective agronomic and fertilizer recommendations and practices. This approach aims to boost nutrient use efficiency and maintain or exceed current productivity levels. The main outcome of the initiative will be a pan-African space-to-place decision support tool that sustainably improves soil fertility, with a medium- and long-term focus on enhancing nutrient uptake and use efficiency through localized soil fertility and soil health recommendations.