When small bits make a big difference: Fertilizer microdosing in drylands

Sorghum plots with applied microdosing (left), and without fertilizer (right)

When small bits make a big difference: Fertilizer microdosing in drylands

ICRISAT-HOPE project scientists are promoting the use of microdosing techniques to farmers in the semi-arid areas where most soils are deficient in nitrogen and phosphorous. This soil deficiency results in very low crop productivity and food insecurity due to the soil infertility and unreliable rains.

Microdosing is a method of fertilizer application that involves the use of small amounts of fertilizers at planting or after emergence of the crop to boost nutrient uptake and productivity.

“It involves the use of small doses of fertilizer, normally one sixth or less of the quantities used in the developed world,” says Dr Said Silim, Principal Investigator, ICRISAT-HOPE project. The technique allows resource poor farmers to apply small, affordable and efficient amounts of fertilizer to their impoverished land for improved soil health and crop production. The fertilizer is placed next

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farmers is the drylands are poor, risk averse and cannot afford to purchase the conventional recommended fertilizer quantities. “In the drylands, the likelihood of crop failure is high and the people in those areas are poor. Using small quantities of fertilizer or microdosing is affordable to poor farmers and gives crops a quick start,” adds Dr Silim.

The microdosing techniques will therefore drastically reduce the amount and cost of fertilizer used by the dryland farmers and at the same time increase soil fertility. “ICRISAT has tested this technique in a number of countries in Africa to determine which type of fertilizer and quantities to use, and then tested them on-farm,” says Dr Silim.

In Kenya, a system was initiated to supply small packs of fertilizer to small-scale farmers so as to create fertilizer demand. “We started working with agro-dealers and fertilizer companies to pack the right type of fertilizer in 1-10 kg packs,” adds Dr Silim. The initiative has yielded good results because demand for fertilizer

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Micro-dosed crops perform better under drought conditions, especially with early season moisture availability. They develop a large root system capable of absorbing water and required nutrients contained in the fertilizer that help to hasten crop maturity and escape late season drought.

Picture courtesy ICRISAT