Even though amazing strides have been made over the last few years with technological advances, and agriculture riding this wave, smallholder farmers in certain parts of Africa have been slow in adopting the technologies. Research has revealed that less than three in 10 farmers in the upper parts of Africa use technology.
Just under 30% of farmers in the northern, upper eastern and upper western regions of Africa are currently making use of scientific agricultural practises introduced to them by the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-STEPRI), research has found.
This study was carried out as part of the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for Next Generation (Africa RISING) project, which is being carried out across West and East Africa with several partners.
The initiative in Ghana focused on smallholder farmers in the three regions who raised livestock (small ruminants) and crops (maize and cowpea). Through the idea of “technology parks,” technologies developed in these areas were made available to farmers. Researchers are, however, concerned about the low and uneven rate of technology adoption by farmers.
Remaining 70% targeted
“For now, what we need to do is go after the 70% that are left and find out why they are not adopting the technologies. Another challenge with the low uptake of such technologies is the inactive involvement of the private sector. Elsewhere, research is sponsored by the private sector in developed countries, so the results go to them. But in our case, because it is a public institution we don’t charge, so when we finish, we have to give it back to our financier,” said Dr Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw, the head of the agriculture, medicine and environment division at CSIR-STEPRI.
In order to analyse policies that affect smallholder farmers, the CSIR-STEPRI has been working with the Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) Project of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) since 2017.
The current collaboration is concentrated on the delivery of activities on the impact of technology adoption, drivers of adoption, and potential net gains and losses associated with various technologies.
Reflectometer, an affordable solution
An introduction to an affordable scientific agricultural practice introduced to farmers is a low-cost “reflectometer”.
“Soil organic carbon varies at fine scales across fields,” said Sieglinde Snapp, a member of the Soil Science Society of America, who has been working on the project and closely with smallholder farmers. “Farmers require detailed information to better understand how crops will respond to nutrients and water management. Both processes are regulated by soil organic carbon.”
The research team looked for rapid, low-cost methods to assist farmers in determining the carbon content of their soil. They tested a cheap, mobile “reflectometer”. The reflectometer collects infrared reflectance at ten wavelengths, allowing for a USD$350 hardware cost. For instance, purchasing the necessary equipment for an alternative accurate method may cost over USD$100 000.
“Despite its simplicity and low cost, we found that the reflectometer predicted soil carbon levels precisely. It gave sufficient accuracy to inform soil management,” said Snapp.
“Collecting this data requires minimal training of extension staff. They can then carry out assessments of soil carbon in real-time with farmers in their fields. This represents a significant step forward in improving agronomic management in data-poor locations. Access to such immediate and locally relevant soil data can empower Malawian farmers to make more informed management decisions based on their unique contexts.”
The collaboration between Africa RISING and IITA also provides farmers with instructional YouTube videos in their spoken languages, so that information is made easier to understand and more easily accessible.
According to Africa RISING, the practises that have been adopted have led to an increase in yields, and an improved quality on top of that.