Breaking the "Fertilizer Poverty" and Food Insecurity Traps in Smallholder Maize Based Farming System in Southern Africa: Experiences and Lessons from Soil Fertility Network/Economics and Policy Working Group (EPWG)
Stephen R. Waddington and
Smallholder farmers in southern Africa face acute food insecurity because the productive capacity of their soils has declined. These resource-poor farmers increasingly cannot afford mineral fertilizers Farmers mentioned the lack of fertilizers for their depleted soils as the most important constraint- "Empty Soils, stomachs and pockets." In response to this challenge, Soil Fert Net researchers in southern Africa have developed and promoted a range of "best-bet" soil fertility management technological (SFMT) options for farmers. This paper presents a review of financial, adoption, institutional and policy analysis undertaken by EPWG members on the use of SFMT by smallholders. Financial and risk analysis tools, selected econometric models and policy analysis matrix were employed to measure profitability, incidence and intensity of adoption and to understand the effects of policy instruments necessary to promote SFMTs. Financial analysis of "best bets" indicates that (even with current unfavorable input and output prices) there are positive payoffs to investing in SFMTs. Adoption studies in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique revealed that farmers need to make a significant initial investment in terms of labor, land and capital before they start to obtain benefits. SFMTs are also management and information intensive and farmers' limited skills and knowledge are critical factors influencing adoption. Profitability and subsequent adoption decisions are sensitive to changes in maize grain price, crop yield and the cost of borrowing capital. The study recommend institutional and policy support and advocacy for better access to credit, input availability, market linkages to scale up the diffusion and promotion of SFMTs.