Agriculture and related activities provide livelihood opportunities for eight out of every 10 African workers. Yield-enhancing technologies, including quality fertilizer, improved seeds, crop protection products and Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) allow farmers to typically double, and in some cases, triple or quadruple yields. Advanced technologies also enable farmers to minimize expenditures and reduce risks in the application of costly mineral fertilizers by combining them with organic nutrient sources (a key ISFM tool) or applying non-conventional fertilizers with “point placement.” However, many other factors affect a farmer’s potential for success. Site-specific weather patterns, local ecologies and environmental issues must all be considered in the agricultural decision-making process.
The transfer of these innovative technologies and related data are traditionally offered in manual form through government extension agents and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, advances in computer technology over the last decade have allowed agricultural, ecological and environmental data to be collected and organized into a cadre of decision support tools that offer more efficient sharing of critical data for sound decision-making.
DSTs enable those engaged in agricultural research and extension services to improve their ability to use geographic information systems (GIS), market information systems (MIS) and modeling tools to collect, analyze and employ soil, weather and market information, and to generate site- and crop-specific soil nutrient recommendations. DSTs also improve the ability to integrate field data and offer more efficient methods of disseminating and applying results that lead to better yields and higher profits.
These DSTs are designed to reinforce the decisions of agronomists, soil scientists, meteorologists and economists from national and international agricultural research institutes and universities, as well as government policymakers and the ministries in charge of agricultural productivity and planning. As this enhanced information is disseminated down through the agricultural value chain to the local farmer, more effective approaches can be pursued in inputs selection, nutrient use efficiency and yield-enhancing technologies such as ISFM.
IFDC, in cooperation with partner organizations, has engaged in research and development activities coupled with extensive field testing to validate decision support systems that can enhance decision-making at the smallholder farmer level. Such systems enable rapid assessment of more effective and economic combinations of locally available nutrient sources and inorganic fertilizers that farmers can apply on a site-specific basis to increase yields and incomes. These site-specific recommendations are developed within the framework of an assessment of climate variability and the potential for long-term climate change.
IFDC’s objectives in relation to decision support tools include:
- The increased awareness of decision support systems designed to help improve agricultural productivity
- The hands-on use of DSTs to address a wide array of production questions
- Enhanced understanding of application opportunities for decision support systems to improve yields and achieve resource conservation
DSTs cover all facets of fertilizer recommendation systems, including risks associated with climatic and market fluctuations. IFDC’s array of decision support tools provides a wide range of data and offers critical information on:
- General fertilizer requirements and ISFM
- Use of existing soil, climate, crop and socioeconomic data and crop simulation models for ex-ante analysis of yields and market accessibility for strategic site selection
- Identifying yield gaps and plant nutrient demand for target yields
- Determination of optimal nutrient rates within the context of ISFM
- Designing field trials and data collection exercises
- Maintaining and updating nutrient recommendations
- Application of GIS and Integrated Decision Support System (IDSS) tools for site-specific recommendations