A small pinch goes a long way, and that is especially true for microdosing, a strategic fertilizer placement technique developed by CGIAR researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and partners to increase fertilizer use efficiency, reduce investment costs for resource-poor small-scale farmers, and increase crop growth and productivity.
The technology is based on the application of small doses of fertilizer – just a “three-finger pinch” – in the seed planting hole at sowing, or at the base of plants two weeks after planting. The concentration of nutrients at the source helps roots grow out quickly and profusely, which in turn helps plants capture more of the native nutrients in soil, as well as counteract late-season drought, and adapt to climate variability. A well-timed pinch can result in crop yield increases ranging from 43% to 120%. The combination of these effects significantly increases the agronomic and the economic efficiency of nutrient and water use for smallholder farmers.
A well-timed pinch can result in crop yield increases ranging from 43% to 120%
Microdosing can make a big difference in places with high land degradation, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 180 million people are affected and economic loss is estimated at $68 billion per year. Unless nutrients are replaced, soils become depleted and can negatively impact crop quality and yield. For smallholder farmers living and working on degraded land, investment in soil nutrients can be a big economic risk with no guaranteed return on investment. For farmers in this situation, microdosing offers a lower-stakes solution that still yields results.
Microdosing can also be combined with other agricultural innovations to boost positive outcomes. When combined with mechanization during planting periods, microdosing can lessen farmer workloads. When combined with inventory credit schemes, microdosing has been proven to enhance sustainability – in Niger, the combination has been shown to increase household incomes by 34%. Even a simple combination of microdosing with a handful of organic manure applied in planting pits before the first rains allows for better use of the inputs and better plant growth.
Header photo: Degraded land can produce quality crops and high yields with methods such as microdosing. Photo by ICRISAT.