Bioinoculants’ Role in Crop Production and Protection

Lead Organization:

University of Greenwich

Partner Organizations:

The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), CCRP projects in the Kilimanjaro and Singida regions where FRNs have been established, NGO Ateker Transformation and Sustainability Initiatives (ATSI-UG), Colorado State University, University of Greenwich Natural Resources Institute (NRI)

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa


Uganda and Tanzania




Studies show that plants facilitate assembly of specific microbial communities around their root zones, and differential selection occurs between the species around the rhizosphere and root endophytic zone. Evidence exists that plant biochemistry derives from microbial interactions within the tissues. Beneficial soil-borne microorganisms can affect above-ground interactions in different ways, including promoting plant growth and improving plant development in various ways, including increased nutrient uptake and production of secondary metabolites, enzymes, volatile organic compounds, and growth hormones.

Using farm resources to enhance crop production and manage pests and diseases is an age-long practice and the premise for research toward identifying beneficial microbes and development of effective microbial inoculants and biofertilizers. At farmers’ level, using bio inputs such as farmyard manure or compost has traditionally been a dominant practice and revered as cost-effective, environmentally benign, and sustainable relative to crop production and soil management. However, using these inputs has been implicated for being bulky and long decomposing for quick returns at plot level and seasonal crop phenology scales. This created interest in development of local bioinoculants such as liquid ferments and biosols that can be applied at agronomic scale by resource-limited farmers. Understanding local knowledge about bioinoculants and their effect on soil, plant, and pests is therefore crucial for promotion of bioinoculants within the context of renewed interest of agroecological transitions.

Although evidence exists that beneficial microorganisms have close association with plant roots and exhibit a diverse array of interactions spanning a range of ecological possibilities, it is not adequately reported how locally farm-developed bioinoculants influence rhizosphere microbial communities and direct or indirect effects on specific generalist pests such as stem borers on sorghum and their natural enemy interactions. Nor is it known how different farm-made bioinoculants can establish and enhance soil microbial communities for crop production, protection, and soil health. This highlights a need to understand the effectiveness of native microbes from soil, forest ecosystems, and cow dung, and how these fit into farmers’ knowledge, practices, and attitudes.

This research seeks to understand the basic approach to optimize bioinoculants derived from cow (and potentially other animal) dung and native microbes from soils and forested ecosystems for crop production, protection, and soil health in Uganda and Tanzania.

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to contribute to sustainable agroecological crop production and protection by understanding the microbial diversity and dynamics of farm-made biofertilizers on sorghum.

Specifically, the project seeks to:

  1. Determine local knowledge, skills, and attitudes and practices for soil health management and crop pest management.
  2. Determine effect of farm-made bioinoculants on soil functional microbial diversity in sorghum-legume cropping system.
  3. Determine effect of farm-made bioinoculants on resistance response to stem borers of sorghum, other pests, and their natural enemies.
  4. Provide an opportunity for a promising young scientist from Uganda to complete a PhD on these issues.

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • Determine existing biofertilizers and bioinoculants being used locally by farmers in soil fertility management.
  • Understand what local resources and processes are used for making soil biological amendments.
  • Determine practices and constraints in application and cycling of major crop nutrients and organic matter sources on farms in eastern Uganda and central Tanzania.
  • Understand local knowledge and practices used by farmers for pest management in sorghum-legume cropping systems.
  • Understand effect of different bioinoculants, preparation methods, time of fermenting, and frequency of application on soil biochemical properties.
  • Determine functional microbiological analysis of different bioinoculants to determine microbial functional diversity.
  • Evaluate different application methods of bioinoculants on microbial communities at rhizosphere (seed priming/coating with solid bioinoculants, liquid bioinoculants application).
  • Establish sorghum experiments with bioinoculants from soil, cow dung, and forest ecosystems to determine effect of bioinoculants on plant quality (plant nutrients, chlorophyll) and growth (measurement of plant growth rate, plant vigor, height, dry matter).
  • Understand role of bioinoculants in tri-tophic interactions between plant, pest, and natural enemies.