03 Sep 2014

Advancing 4R Nutrient Stewardship Knowledge in Support of Crop Production Intensification in Ethiopia

New Joint Initiative Launched by IPNI and the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) at African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - A new research initiative was established this month between the International Fertilizer Association (IFA), the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), and a network of Ethiopian partners. This initiative will advance 4R Nutrient Stewardship knowledge and practices for crop production intensification within Ethiopia.

IPNI conducts research and development activities in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) via its Nairobi-based regional program Directed by Dr. Shamie Zingore. Dr. Zingore collaborates with various institutions to produce scientific and extension publications and decision support tools that contribute to improved understanding of the role of best fertilizer management practices in crop production intensification in SSA. The main focus is to support sustainable agricultural intensification in Africa by providing direction in plant nutrient management guided by the principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship, which is defined as applying the right nutrient source, at the right rate, right time, and right place.

IPNI SSA will initiate the project for a period of four years, ensuring the time necessary to build human capacity in the target regions and ensure future sustainability of extension messages. The project will support technical staff, on-farm fertilizer trials, field days, training workshops, development and production of extension products, and dissemination of 4R technologies through radio programs.

“We shall use our recent experience gained in successfully building support for maize production intensification in Western Kenya based on the 4R Nutrient Stewardship to apply the concept to the Ethiopian setting,” explains Dr. Zingore. "The project will provide valuable support to government programs in Ethiopia to increase fertilizer use and develop site-specific fertilizer products."

Planned Outputs
1. New agronomic and economic knowledge generated on the impact of 4R components on crop production intensification in high potential maize productions zones.
2. Extension agents and farmers in pilot sites trained on implementation of 4R practices.
3. 4R extension pamphlets for small holder farming systems in SSA developed in English and local language.
4. 4R knowledge and project outputs from the pilot sites disseminated through television, radio and print media.
5. Videos of main project activities and impact of the project in the pilot site.
6. 4R Content developed in form of short messages ‘tips’ and disseminated to farmers.

Key Partnerships - IFA and IPNI will be implementing the project in collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR), Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) to demonstrate the impact of various 4R techniques on crop productivity and profits.

This new project has come at an opportune time, as it will provide support to (existing) government programs and will also fill major gaps in information dissemination and training of farmers to improve knowledge of fertilizers and their correct use,” explains Dr. Zebene Mikru Manager, Soil Testing Centre, Ministry of Agriculture. “I am confident that this initiative will generate important outputs that will contribution to agricultural development in Ethiopia.”

To achieve sustainable increases in crop productivity in SSA, there is need to increase fertilizer use, and support farmers to manage the fertilizers properly to ensure that crops are provided with the correct and adequate nutrients under variable soil fertility conditions.

"Pilot research led by IPNI, Ethiopian-led initiatives and policies set to stabilize agricultural growth, and improved access to information required to adapt 4R principles within the Ethiopian context are all contributing to a solid support base for the project to build upon," explained Dr. Terry Roberts, President of IPNI.

"Given IFA's focus on best fertilizer management practices and supporting increased balanced fertilizer consumption to drive yield gains in sub-Saharan Africa," Charlotte Hebebrand, Director General of IFA stated, "IFA is delighted to support IPNI's excellent research and outreach efforts focusing on smallholders in Ethiopia."

Project Notes for Editors
Ethiopian agriculture is dominated by small holder farmers (< 25 ha) with over 90% of cultivated land under food grain crops. Crop productivity has been low, and the national cereal yield is still less than 2 t/ha, pulses are 0.8 t/ha. Arable land is becoming increasingly scarce, thus increases in production will be driven by intensification of inputs rather than expansion of land area. Poor soil fertility is one main factor limiting crop productivity with the dominant problems being:

* More than 40% of total arable land is affected by soil acidity, of which the distribution is stronger in high potential production areas.
* Multiple nutrient deficiencies, including macro and micro-nutrients (e.g., N, P, K, S, Zn).
* Severe organic matter depletion, driven by competing uses for crop residues and manure as livestock feed and fuel.
* Severe topsoil erosion of 137 t/ha/year.

Significant milestones supporting successful outreach in Ethiopia
1. Recent success from IPNI pilot project in Kenya that focused on developing effective models for validation and dissemination of 4R practices suitable for small holder farming systems: A project to support maize production intensification based on the 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept was initiated by IPNI in Western Kenya in 2013 and implemented in collaboration with international research organizations, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, fertilizer distributors, extension agents, and farmers. The project has demonstrated that farmers can economically increase maize productivity from the current average of 1.5 t/ha to 6 t/ha by adopting 4R practices in addition to other good agronomic practices, including the use of improved maize varieties, timely planting, and weeding. The project has generated strong evidence for the potential to intensify maize productivity demonstrated in Western Kenya based on balanced fertilizer use. Field based learning centers have also been facilitated through demonstrations showing the importance of various nutrients (macro and micronutrients) in the production of major crops. Various knowledge products have been developed to improve both the access to information and application of 4R knowledge to increase crop productivity. For additional details see: http://ipni.info/IPNI-2013-SSAP-2#

2. Ethiopian government led initiatives set to increase fertilizer use and develop site-specific fertilizer blends: Within the last decade the government of Ethiopia has developed various policies to curb the challenges facing agriculture and therefore improve average crop yields of major cereals and legumes. These policies are mainly targeting soil fertility improvement, provision of quality seeds, and improvement of extension services, input financing and linking the farmers to output markets. Ethiopia has consistently allocated more than 10% of public spending on agriculture in the past 10 years, has invested heavily in rural infrastructure, and has made concerted efforts toward agricultural intensification with special attention to the promotion of extension services and fertilizer use. Government spending in extension has also established over 8,500 Farmer Training Centers and trained 63,000 Development Agents from 2002 to 2008.

Government incentive for increased fertilizer use has been the annual cereal production targets set within Ethiopia. Increasing the distribution of fertilizer and improved seed has been the key move for achieving these targets, but the last 10 years has also seen total fertilizer imports (largely DAP and Urea) that have increased by more than 50%, from less than 370,000 t in 2002 to almost 890,000 t in 2012. To date, this imbalance fertilizer use has not fully paid off in terms of optimal crop yield increases. A government initiated program designed to build the capacity to supply the required fertilizer blends for Ethopian soils has built five fertilizer blending plants-one in each of four main agricultural regions-that will have a production capacity of nearly 250,000 tonnes per year.

3. Recent availability of detailed soil map for Ethiopia: The success of policies has been constrained by lack of up-to-date data on site specific soil fertility characteristics and fertilizer recommendations as most of the proposed interventions rely on major national soil surveys dating to the 1980s and research from the 1950s and 60s. The recent availability of a detailed soil map for Ethiopia developed as part of the African Soils Information Service (AfSIS) project (see http://www.africasoils.net/) will be used as a basis for adapting 4R Nutrient Stewardship to local climatic and soil conditions.

More Notes
The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) is a trade association representing the global fertilizer industry, which provides the crop nutrients that allow farmers everywhere to meet the world's growing food, feed, fiber and bioenergy needs in a sustainable manner. IFA member companies represent all activities related to the production and distribution of every type of fertilizer, their raw materials and intermediates. IFA’s membership also includes organizations involved in agronomic research and training. IFA has some 550 members in about 86 countries.