Catalyzing data-driven solutions for smallholder farmer fertilizer uptake

R4D and the Local Development Research Institute are piloting a new approach to incentivize the collection and usage of key fertilizer data to accelerate the delivery of fertilizer to smallholder rural farmers.

The Challenge

Smallholder farmers in low-income contexts face a variety of challenges in attempting to boost their productivity to escape subsistence-level farming and poverty. A key challenge for these farmers is access to key agricultural inputs (including extension services, seeds, and fertilizer) at affordable prices and in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, such timely and affordable access is often the exception rather than the norm, with poor data and information gaps frequently a root cause of market breakdowns. This is a particularly acute problem in the fertilizer sector, where the application of the wrong fertilizer to crops at the wrong time can result in diminished yields and reduced productivity, dragging smallholder rural farmers further into negative cycles of poverty and diminished economic opportunity.

The Opportunity

The fertilizer market in most countries, particularly in low-income contexts, is worrisomely data poor.

This explains why, in part, despite efforts through extension services to stimulate smallholder farmer usage of inorganic fertilizer to boost crop yields, productivity remains stubbornly stagnant for many farmers. Fertilizer is only effective when applied to the right crop at the right cycle in the planting season, and local markets’ ability to serve smallholders with the right fertilizer at the right time is often hampered by poor or non-existent data around farmer needs and preferences. Our proposed project seeks to support better functioning local fertilizer markets through the improved matching of supply and demand data for fertilizer.

Our Work

In partnership with the Local Development Research Institute, R4D has developed a data-driven innovation to provide farmers and vendors with fertilizer information they need. The Mazao Plus+ SMS service and application enables the collection and usage of key fertilizer market data to accelerate improvement of market efficiencies such as linking fertilizer vendors to farmers for timely delivery of fertilizer in favor of smallholder farmers. Agro-dealers, also known as fertilizer vendors, provide agriculture inputs to farmers and supply data to Mazao+ by entering information on the provision of fertilizer type and price. Smallholder farmers receive information on the location of the three nearest fertilizer vendors as well as the price and type of fertilizer they stock. Through this service, farmers and vendors are provided the information they need to help increase access to fertilizer. We are currently testing our pilot approach in Murang’a County, Kenya, working with local government partners as well as local fertilizer vendors to refine the model and demonstrate proof of concept. If successful, we believe this data-driven approach to leveraging fertilizer supply and consumption data towards a better functioning local fertilizer market can be scaled to a number of other low-income geographies in sub-Saharan Africa as well as South and Southeast Asia

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