Perspectives Volume 40, Number 1 | Page 23

PROFESSIONAL’S COLUMN John Wendt: Balanced Nutrition Research at IFDC In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, only fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P and K) are available to smallholder farmers. However, yield increases due to these fertilizers are often modest. In 2012, IFDC’s projects in east and southern Africa initiated complete soil analyses in their regions of operation. Results from all countries – Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia and Mozambique – show wide-scale deficiencies of multiple SMNs to be the norm rather than the exception. The entire country of Ethiopia was similarly mapped, supported by Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency. Photo: John Wendt, IFDC senior expert in soil fertility management (right), discusses IFDC projects with Rob Groot, director of Donor Relations. Consequent field trials designed to identify response to different nutrients show that the secondary nutrients sulfur, calcium and magnesium and the micronutrients zinc, boron and copper are the most common nutrient deficiencies. Yield responses in general are on the order of 20 to 50 percent. The research also shows that in order to realize optimal response, all deficient nutrients must be addressed in combination. Failure to include any one deficient nutrient can severely limit the response to others. Supplying all deficient nutrients in combination is the “balanced nutrition” approach. IFDC has collaborated with national agricultural research and extension services to evaluate balanced nutrition on a number of crops. The entire countries of Rwanda and Burundi have been mapped on a macro scale for all nutrient deficiencies through the CATALIST-2 and PAN-PNSEB projects. Response trials in these countries show that yields of rice, beans, maize, potato and wheat are dramatically increased. It is now national priority in both countries to make balanced fertilizers available to smallholder farmers, and to support these fertilizers with subsidies previously reserved for NPK fertilizers. “[T]o realize optimal response, all deficient nutrients must be addressed in combination.” To achieve this, IFDC has engaged regional fertilizer suppliers and blenders. A balanced nutrition workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, was conducted in October 2014. The 60 attendees represented fertilizer blenders, representatives of national agricultural research institutions, policymakers and fertilizer suppliers. A similar workshop will take place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in April 2015. Large-scale demonstrations of balanced fertilizers are underway in Rwanda and Burundi to further validate response and create farmer demand. Balanced blends provided by regional blenders are also being evaluated in Mozambique and Zambia. Research continues to find optimal ways of delivering SMNs. Added nutrients result in added costs to farmers, so it is important to keep these costs as low as possible. Micronutrient fertilizer coatings, foliar products and very low rates of dolomite (to supply calcium and magnesium) all show promise. Our ultimate objective is to make balanced fertilizers available to all African smallholder farmers to dramatically increase yields, food security and return on fertilizer investments. The balanced nutrition initiative will require careful documentation of successes and a wellconsidered strategy to realize its potential. IFDC Magazine 23