Organisation champions soil analysis
Over 11 000 small-scale farmers in Matobo and Insiza will benefit from a soil sampling survey recently conducted by the European Union-funded Zimbabwe Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) project.
A response to the incessant low yields among communal farmers, the intervention was implemented in partnership with the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS), Agritex, and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
The activity is in line with the ZAKIS project objectives, which include the promotion of best practices that boost agricultural production and productivity, through interventions that are informed by farmer needs assessments.
Commenting on the intervention, ZAKIS head of project Mr Waddilove Sansole said: “We are focused on providing relevant and farmer-centric research that informs agricultural extension and education. Soil tests are an important research priority in the small-scale farming sector because the results will guide nutrient replenishment, and this can lead to increased productivity as well as cost reduction.”
Continuous cultivation with limited or no nutrient replenishment has resulted in nutrient depletion, poor soil fertility, and low productivity in most communal farming areas of Zimbabwe.
In a recent interview, ICRISAT Zimbabwe country representative Dr Martin Moyo said: “The farmer needs assessment that we carried out in collaboration with DR&SS revealed that most smallholder farmers cannot afford to have their soils tested to determine the nutrient, and acidity or alkalinity levels, yet this is the first step in planning a sound nutrient management program to ensure optimum crop production.”
The soil sampling intervention was led by the Matopos Agricultural Centre of Excellence with the participation of farmers and agriculture extension officers in Matobo and Insiza.
“We carried out this pre-planting exercise because it provides valuable information that helps farmers to improve their soil’s health. Therefore, after collecting and analysing the samples we are now evaluating the nutrition levels from each location in order to develop a soil map.
“This will allow us to make informed fertiliser application recommendations and promote the appropriate soil and water conservation techniques,” said Dr. Moyo.
An important tool for best agriculture practice, soil testing allows researchers, extension officers, and farmers to determine crop micronutrient requirements and take the appropriate measures to replenish soil fertility.
Its potential benefits include improved crop quality and increased yields. It also helps farmers to reduce input costs by eliminating wastage as they apply only the recommended quantity and type of fertilisers.
In a related development that is also set to introduce new technology as part of the drive towards digital solutions for agriculture, ZAKIS recently signed an MOU with Solidaridad Southern Africa to conduct trials using handheld digital soil testing devices.
This new initiative will be led by the Agronomy Research Institute.
Commenting on the availability of soil testing services around the country, Dr. Moyo said besides the ZAKIS initiative, there were other soil testing service providers which included the University of Zimbabwe’s Soil Science Department, the Tobacco Research Board, and some private sector players.
ZAKIS works with the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Water, Climate, and Rural Resettlement to improve farmers’ livelihoods by enhancing the dissemination of agricultural knowledge and stimulating innovation through strengthening the working links among agricultural research, education, and extension services.
The project’s interventions are in line with the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy and it is implemented by a consortium of local and international agricultural specialist NGOs, comprising of Welthungerhilfe, ICRISAT, Community Technology Development Organisation.