Many farmers face the challenges of low productivity, infertile soils, and unreliable rain. Their agronomic skills may not give them the versatility they need to cope with changing environmental and market conditions. Farmers can improve their farms’ performance by enhancing the use of improved varieties and natural resources; maximizing returns from externally applied inputs; and increasing resilience to unreliable rainfall. Considering these objectives through the lens of agroecological intensification (AEI) offers a range of options that farmers can use to increase productivity of a diverse range of crops.Farm Input Promotions Africa (FIPS-Africa) promotes a portfolio of technologies and methods (‘options’) through Village-based Agricultural Advisors (VBAs) who can help their neighbors increase productivity on their own farms. The options they work with include improved varieties of cereals, legumes and vegetatively propagated crops; improving crop nutrition; improving tillage methods; and improving crop/grain protection. Legumes promoted include: beans (five varieties plus others developed by the McKnight program); cowpeas (five varieties, including a farmer-identified variety); greengram (two varieties); pigeon pea (two researcher-identified varieties and several farmer-identified varieties).Options for improving crop nutrition include: applying manure in the planting line (instead of broadcast); use of the phosphorus-based seed treatment GroPlus; use of fertilizers; and they are currently testing precision placement of lime. Because manure is a limited resource and fertilizer is expensive, it is important to find low-cost alternatives for legumes or parts of their land that do not receive manure and fertilizer. Where rainfall is limited, options for deeper tillage include using spring jembes, spring ploughs or sub-soilers. While FIPS has observed dramatic increases in productivity, the ability of farmers to adopt these tools for deeper tillage depends on context with some farmers benefiting more than others. For example, spring jembe is only adopted in areas where hand tilling is common. Ploughing is only carried out where farmers have access to bulls and ploughs and the farmers who own bulls tend to benefit before those who do not.
Through this grant, the FIPS team intends to gain greater insight into option by context targeting for varieties, crop nutrition, tillage methods and other AEI options; develop and implement a data platform that can support routine, cost-effective collection and analysis of data describing AEI experiments, contexts; and farmer preferences; develop and implement a system for sharing data with farmers, project managers and external partners.