At heart, Ethiopia is still an agriculture-based society and economy. But low-fertility soils and uncertain climate conditions have threatened smallholders and poor farmers across the country. This means that Ethiopia is struggling to produce more food for a quickly growing population. And on increasingly degraded lands. Part of the solution lies in determining the appropriate type and amount of fertilizer for a given location.
Without national fertilizer recommendations, farms in Ethiopia wrestled to establish suitable fertilizer dosages. With partners supported by GIZ and Africa RISING, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) approached the issue through big data analytics --- a challenging method given that relevant datasets are scattered among institutions. Agriculture remains the least digitized sector. And while the CGIAR has an open data policy, as does the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, many key partners don't share their data.
So the team collected data from published literature, organizations, researchers and students on "crop response to fertilizer application" with the goal of making this information more accessible. The result was a "coalition of the willing" (CoW) created by soil and agronomy experts eager to share their data, or support data access. Next came a taskforce, which developed data sharing guideline and a way forward for the CoW. The members led by CIAT collated datasets and demonstrated the power of Big Data analytics at various national workshops. At one event led by CIAT and partners, international experts shared outcomes from Big Data analysis, generating awareness among Ethiopian Ministry stakeholders. Known as data-driven agronomy, this strategy could provide farmers with the data, observational information, and context to make smart crop management decisions.
Inspired by the activities of the CoW, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture established a national taskforce to develop a soil and agronomy data-sharing policy for Ethiopia. A draft was presented at several CoW meetings with a finalized policy launched in June 2019.
Supported by GIZ, CIAT is now leading the national Ministry and stakeholders in their effort to develop national fertilizer recommendations, an accomplishment that will support the country’s agricultural transformation agenda. With access to more reliable and contextualized information, farmers will be able to make informed decisions. And Ethiopia can produce more food, while improving the health of its landscapes.