The challenge of low production among the rural farmers in Zambia has attracted attention from stakeholder whose programmes have to do with soil nutrients and fertilisers.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency through Japan Bio Farm Company in collaboration with the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute have taken centre stage in ensuring that rural farmers have access to soil testing equipment and the right fertilizers for their soils.
This is with the view that the principal factors that give fertilizer its commercial value are nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash.
Most of these fertilizer materials contain only one of these components, but two or even all three may be found in a few of the fertilizer materials that are currently on the market.
A few Small scale farmers in Zambia have taken interest to concerns of environmental sustainability and turned to organic fertilizers in order to sustain crop and soil health in their operations.
Organic fertilizers provide nutrients and contribute to the quality of soil by improving the soil structure, chemistry, and biological activity level in the soil.
Organic fertilizers are well known for their gradual release of nutrients, and increase of organic matter content in the soils.
On the one hand, inorganic fertilizers that are also referred to as mineral or chemical fertilizers have relatively high nutrients and the release of these nutrients is quick because there is no need for decomposition meaning that the level and timing of nutrient uptake by any given crop is quick and predictable when a farmer uses inorganic fertilizer.
However, the use of mixed fertilizers could help control the release of nutrients to the crop and reduce acidity in the soils more conveniently and effectively by using proper amount of the liming material in a mixture of organic and inorganic fertilizers application in the field.
With funding from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bio Farm Company, the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) at Mount Makulu research station in Chilanga is trying the utilization of the Super ‘D’ fertilizer among the farmers in the country.
Super ‘D’ fertilizer is a new technology that has come from Japan which is currently being evaluated and validated by ZARI.
Like any other new technologies that come into the country more especially in the agricultural sector, the performance evaluation of Super ‘D’ fertilizer is being done in the three ecological zones that include, Luapula, Southern and Central provinces which are areas with high rainfall patterns.
Mr. Robert Salati, a Senior Soil Scientist at the ZARI Mount Makulu says the performance evaluation of the Super ‘D’ fertilizer is being tried in Choma, Kabwe, Mkushi, Chembe and Mansa districts.
‘Super ‘D’ fertilizer is on trial on crops such as cowpeas in Choma, soya bean in Mkushi, rice in Mansa and Chembe and maize in all the districts or provinces.” Mr. Salati said.
He said Super ‘D’ fertilizer is being tried by 30 farmers in Luapula, 30 farmers in Central and another 30 farmers in Southern provinces.
“The on-station and on-farm experiments or trials being carried out in the three ecological zones will help with the actual validation of the Super ‘D’ fertilizer by also ensuring that an ideal situation is used to see its performance as well as it being a farmer driven research process”, he added.
Research activities on the efficiency of Super ‘D’ fertilizer has been carried out for three years now and what is remaining is to analyse data and see the significant differences it has compared to other fertilisers.
Mr. Salati said any new product brought to a farmer is taken up with a lot of afterthought, the reason being that one of the basic resources a farmer needs to safeguard for his farming activities is land which is not readily available, hence the need to utilise their land in a more sustainable manner and whatever input introduced, farmers become sceptical of its impact on the soil.
“To array fears among the farmers, our mandate as a research institution is to ensure that any new product introduced into the sector is subjected to trials to give us an idea of what its effects would be on the soils and the environment because what might have worked in Japan or any other continent or region might not work in Zambia,” he said.
The use of animal waste in maintaining soil organic matter has become a popular practice in all parts of the world today simply because it is not only a safe and effective way of recovery for lost plant nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus but also improves the uptake of nutrients by the crop in the field.
Although information on the effects of animal manure and the other organic fertilizers on crop yield are available, farmers in the country still rely on chemical fertilizers to maintain crop yields and pay little attention to maintaining soil organic matter in the soils.
In Zambia, farmers have traditionally been using different fertilizers available on the market without realising that different soils require different fertilizer formulations.
And because of the need to assist farmers in realising their yields, ZARI and Japan Bio Farm Company are working on refining the recommendations of the Super ‘D’ fertilizer.
In fact, Japan Bio Farm Company have organised a prototype machine that is currently based at mount Makulu Research Station and is being used in making the Super ‘D’ fertilizer for the purpose of demonstrating to farmers that there is actually an option to the usual compound ‘D’ fertilisers.
Speaking after touring trials and demo plots that were applied with Super ‘D’ fertilizer in Chembe District, Howard Tembo a Chief Agricultural Research Officer says the objective of the project is to improve the agricultural productivity of land in Zambia by introducing a mixed fertilizer of chemical inputs and chicken manure applied using recommendations of soil test results and fertilizer recommendations obtained using a potable soil test kit called ‘Dr. Soil’.
Mr. Tembo told farmers that the advantage of using Super D fertilizer is that the fertiliser is quoted with organic material or manure to help with the conditioning of soils because most of our soils in region three especially are acidic and very low in organic matter content.
“As you can see here at our on-farm trial, we have the various treatments of these crops to fertilizers and it’s very clear that Super ‘D’ is actually performing quite well especially on maize,” he said.
Mr. Rabisamana Banda, Chief Technical Research Assistant at Mount Makulu Research Station intimated that soil testing is meant to provide solutions to most problems that farmers face in the agriculture industry.
“Most farmers in the country are using guess work in their field, which apparently is not good at all because it is affecting their farm yields, income and food security both at individual and household levels,” says Mr. Banda.
Mr. Banda added that most maize varieties on the market today, especially the 700 series have the potential to give a farmer about 10 tons per hectares, but apparently they are getting low yields of between 2 to 3 tons per hectares simply because most of them shy away from testing the soil in their fields.”
“Luapula province for example is a high rainfall area and soils are very acidic meaning that there is high levels of aluminium that is causing harm to crops in most cases especially maize, therefore, in situations like the one we have here in Luapula Province, there is need to promote the use of dolomatic lime and Super ‘D’ fertilizer to help combat the acidity,” says Mr. Banda.
Mr. Banda added that the trials aim at achieving specific objectives such as validation and evaluation of the effects of Super ‘D’ fertilizer on cereals, legume crops, soil chemical properties and compare the performance between Super ‘D’ fertilizer and some conventional fertilizer like the traditional Compound ‘D’ fertilizer.
“If you look at Super ‘D’ fertilizer, it is a combination of chicken manure that fills up the 56% of organic matter that is taken up by Clay soil in these other fertilizer,” says Mr. Banda.
He said that apart from Nitrogen, Phosphorous and potassium that have the ratio of 10: 20: 10: which in real sense is compound D fertilizer; Japan Bio Farm Company has added chicken manure to formulate what we are calling Super ‘D’ fertilizer.
In this case, chicken manure is acting as sponge to hold nutrients that are slowly released to the crop and avoid the leaching down of the nutrients in case of heavy rains.
What is therefore important is for small scale farmers to be reached out with the right information about the benefits of soil testing and Super ‘D’ compound fertilizer so that doubts they harbour about the fertilizer being tried are averted. NAIS