Land degradation is particularly acute in sub-Saharan African regions where long-term overuse of soil and low, unpredictable rainfall are the prime reasons for poor food production. Poor farmers often take everything they can out of the soil and are unwilling to invest in fertilizer because the growing season is very risky. This failure to replenish the soil fuels an unrelenting, vicious cycle. Unless nutrients are replaced, soils will become depleted and yields and crop quality will decline, leading to widespread hunger and under-nutrition.
To address this, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and partners developed a “microdosing” technique that involves the application of small, affordable quantities of fertilizer using a bottle cap, either during planting or as a top dressing 3 to 4 weeks after emergence. This technique maximizes the use of fertilizer and improves productivity.
Combined with FAO’s warrantage system, microdosing has increased sorghum and millet yields by up to 120% and incomes by up to 50% in more than 200,000 households in Africa.
The ‘warrantage’ or inventory credit strategy aims to resolve the farmers’ capital constraint. Farmers place part of their harvest in a local storehouse in return for inventory credit with which to meet pressing post-harvest expenses and engage in dry season income generating activities. The stored grain may then be sold later in the year at much higher prices and the farmers can make a profit. This way the farmer, and not the middleman, gets the profit.
Microdosing has reintroduced fertilizer use in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
In Zimbabwe, this technique was shared with 170,000 farmers in drier parts of the country under the national drought relief program. Fertilizer companies in the country and South Africa initiated an associated set of pilot programs for small pack fertilizer sales promoting the microdosing technology.
Microdosing has contributed an estimated 70,000 tons of additional grain, valued at almost US$12 million, to the food security of poor farmers in drought prone regions of Africa.