Last mile solutions for smallholder farmers

Feb 25, 2019

Currently, the crop specific fertilizer blends are used by over 5,000 farmers across Uganda

By Hannington Karuhanga

In 2100 the population of Uganda is projected to be 205 million and in the top 10 most populous countries in the world (Population Division of Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat). 

Inevitably the demand for increased nutritious food for Uganda's fast growing population has mobilized various stakeholders in the agricultural value chain to look out for innovative ways of increasing food production that will feed the 205 million people by 2100. And this means taking into account all factors favouring crop productivity. 

Through the Growth for Uganda project, initiated by K+S Kali GmbH Germany, one of the world's leading suppliers of standard and specialty fertilizers and Sasakawa Africa, a non-governmental organisation, they decided to promote approaches such as getting extension services nearer to farmers using a Mobile Farmer Training Center truck equipped with soil testing facilities and deployed in hard to reach areas in the country. 

By the end of the project, it was discovered that where soils were still fertile, there was increased crop productivity by 30% and also post harvest losses reduced to 16%. For this kind of growth to be consolidated, there was a need to ensure that the soils that support production have the required nutrients. 

Our soil scientists from the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) have already indicated that nutrients in the soil have been depleted, hence the need for additional fertilizers. They also said that the current fertilizer use in Uganda stands at less than 4 kg per hectare per year, yet Government committed itself during the Abuja meeting in 2006 to increase fertilizer use by at least 50 kg per hectare per year by 2015. 

As the Government goes on to address such constraints, the private sector like Grainpulse Limited, decided to blend and package fertilizers according to the needs of specific crops, hence the term Crop Specific Fertilizers. 

Grainpulse, located in Mukono, established Uganda's first fertilizer blending facility at the factory premises in Mbalala in January 2017, setting the stage for a seamless transition from a growth project to a business venture, that formulates and produces crop specific fertilizer blends for various crops produced in Uganda through their working partnerships with K+S. 

The crop specific fertilizer blends are produced for different crops based on macro-nutrients, primary nutrients, removal rates of the specific crops such that the fertilizer blend for Maize NPK 20:20:18 is different from that of Beans NPK 11:29:23 which in turn is different from the Banana NPK 19:8:28. These different crops absorb the nutrients in different ratios hence the difference in their formulations. 

These are the crop specific fertiliser blends formulations that will help to increase crop yields since they replace the nutrients already harvested in previous seasons to avail them during the current season. Generally, on the Ugandan market the fertilizers that are provided are straight fertilizers such as DAP, Urea and CAN or NPK formulations that are targeted for crop such as sugar cane and tea, that is NPK 17:17:17 and NPK 25:5:5 respectively, that have been promoted as multi-crop fertilizer blends.

This multi-crop approach is not sustainable for the farmers and the environments due to inconsistent levels of nutrients being placed in the soils without consideration for specific crop nutrient requirements.

Currently, the crop specific fertilizer blends are used by over 5,000 farmers across Uganda for the following crops: Maize, Beans, Soybeans, Coffee, Tomato, Banana, Sorghum, Barley, Rice, Finger Millet, Cassava, Sweet Potato, Irish Potato and Sunflower. These are packed in 10kg, 25kg and 50kg bags.

Many farmers initially purchased the 10kg bag and applied it on a small area of their farm and compared it with their previous practices of either applying straight fertilizers such as DAP or NPK formulations or no fertilizer on the rest of their land. The results were evident in the area where the crop specific fertilizer blends were applied the farmers got significantly higher yields than in other areas.

An exceptional case was experienced by a particular farmer who had struggled to harvest 1 bag of Maize in past seasons on his quarter acre land and after application of the Maize specific fertilizer blend, he was able to harvest 4 bags of Maize. However, this farmer has previously only been applying organic matter to his farm and this complimented with the application of the Maize specific NPK 20:20:18 increased his productivity.

The result of such success stories is the increased demand this upcoming season for crop specific fertilizer blends especially in areas where farmers have witnessed the benefits through own on farm demonstrations with the 10kg bags of various crop specific fertilizer blends. This has been the positive experience in districts such as Mukono, Gulu, Kayunga, Masaka, Mityana, Iganga, Bududa, Mubende, Masindi, Kiboga, Ntungamo, Hoima, Mpigi, Kamwenge, Budaka, Kasese, Kiryandongo, Ibanda, Buikwe, Lwengo, Bushenyi, Kabale, Kanungu, Sembabule, Bugiri and Rukungiri to mention a few.

Just as every family aims at having a balanced diet on a daily basis, the same applies to crops, that is why the fertilizer blends come in handy because they have all nutrients required by an individual crop, and w other factors of production remaining constant, a farmer is assured of better yields and a good harvest which can be sold to get house hold income but also save for food security.

Such solutions that are being promote by the Growth for Uganda project are being scaled through Grainpulse to facilitate access to markets for smallholder farmers through an integrated business structure of commodity trading and value added processing for Coffee, Grains and Pulses. I recently read in an agricultural report that the best fertilizer for your crop is markets.

This emphasizes that vast market opportunities enable three fold production increases due to demand for quality produce and high yields originating from good agricultural practices.

Writer is the CEO of Grainpulse Limited

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