Making the ‘Right’ Fertilizer Decision
In South Asia, 90 percent of smallholder farmers using fertilizer do not achieve optimum crop yields due to a lack of access to soil testing services. In response to this information gap, the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) South Asia Program developed the Nutrient Expert® decision support tools in partnership with MAIZE to provide location-specific fertilizer recommendations for farmers growing maize and wheat.
The decision support tool received the award for Best Innovation at the Bihar Innovation Forum, which recognizes innovations to improve rural livelihoods in India. Nutrient Expert® is the product of close collaboration with key partners such as national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), seed and fertilizer industries, NGOs, farmers’ and women’s self-help clubs in India.
“The advantage of developing the Nutrient Expert® in a participatory mode was that the partners were on-board from day one and ultimately ‘owned’ the innovation,” said Dr. Kaushik Majumdar, Director of IPNI South Asia.
By canvassing the 450 researchers and extension workers in East India who received training in the computer-based tools, IPNI estimates that their potential outreach was over 60,000 farmers. The aim is to embed the Nutrient Expert® approach in university and state agriculture department extension systems even further and reach more cereal farmers through multiple channels.
No ‘One Size Fits All’ Solution
Dr. Majumdar believes that farmers’ perceptions of fertilizer use will improve as a result of better advice. “A resource-driven fertilizer recommendation strategy would be more acceptable to farmers instead of ‘one size fits all’ recommendations.”
The Nutrient Expert® tool is also one of the important flagship interventions for the Climate Smart Villages (CSVs) under the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in India. Other IPNI programs in China, SSA and North Africa are also adapting the tools to their local situations.
A study funded by a MAIZE Competitive Grant Initiative (CGI) in 2012 and 2013 contributed an understanding of the types of farm systems in use in eastern India and the positive impact of Nutrient Expert® recommendations. New materials and trainings to spread awareness of the tools were also commissioned.
“Once we knew the resource classes of farmers through the typology survey, it was easier for us to decide the target yields,” said Majumdar. “Farmers would ultimately be the beneficiaries if the work funded by MAIZE could start the process of making fertilizer recommendations more flexible as well as science- and resource-driven.”
A version of Nutrient Expert® for SSA has now been developed and validated, in partnership with MAIZE. Nutrient Expert® integrates data from multi-location nutrient omission trials to determine farm specific fertilizer requirements, and takes account of the most important factors affecting nutrient management recommendations, including site characteristics, climate, input prices, and crop produce prices.
The Nutrient Expert® tool has also been developed for China, and is under development in North Africa by the respective IPNI Programs.
Nutrient Expert® for hybrid maize helps to:
- Develop an optimal planting density for your location
- Evaluate current nutrient management practices
- Determine a meaningful yield goal based on attainable yield
- Estimate fertilizer nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) rates required for the selected yield goal
- Translate fertilizer NPK rates into fertilizer sources
- Develop an application strategy for fertilizers (right rate, right source, right location, right time), and compare the expected or actual benefit of current and improved practices.