Dozens of Kenyan farmers have been working with Soilcares Foundation soil scanners since last year, thanks to an investment from Rabobank Foundation. The scanners provide valuable knowledge with which they can improve the quality of their land and harvest. Applying that knowledge remains a challenge.
Many farmers in developing countries lack sufficient knowledge about their agricultural land. As a consequence, they often grow the wrong crops on the available soil and do not know which fertilizers they should use. Their agricultural land is therefore often not fertilized adequately, leading to lower crop yields.
SoilCares has developed an innovative soil scanner to tackle this problem. This easy-to-use device analyses the agricultural land simply by scanning the soil. Users are then provided with key data on the scanned soil through an app on their smartphones. This includes valuable information such as the main nutrients in the soil and the soil acidity. The farmers then see which crops would flourish in their soil and the recommended fertilizer for optimally maintaining the soil.
“With some farmers it takes more time to implement soil improvement. Gaining knowledge about your soil via a scanner is the first step. The question is then: what am I going to do with it?”- Christy van Beek, Managing Director SoilCares Foundation
With the help of Rabobank Foundation, SoilCares Foundation introduced 150 soil scanners to Kenya last year. 46 of these have been effectively distributed and deployed. Most users are enthusiastic and demand is increasing. As the harvest season has not yet started, there are not any concrete figures available yet. However, in September, agrarians, advisors and distributors met in Nairobi to share their experiences and successes with the soil scanners. One farmer was very proud that he had bought a suit for the first time in his life after switching to an organic fertilizer and seeing his crop triple. Another farmer had produced 35 bags of corn instead of 10.
Doing things differently
‘Not everyone is an early adopter’, Christy van Beek, Managing Director van SoilCares Foundation says. "Not every farmer is immediately prepared to adjust his soil strategy based on the results of our scanners. The proposed change can be enormous, which makes it complicated to suddenly start doing business differently. For example, if you usually use 50 kilograms of nitrogen and are told that it should actually be 130 kilos, what would you do? This is not only difficult financially, but also requires a huge change in behaviour. If you carry on doing things as you did, then you know what to expect. That's safe. It is very risky for farmers to make big changes, because what if their harvest fails?’
Weighing up change
In practice, it appears that one farmer is more willing to change than the other. For example, one farmer divided his land into two. On one half, he continues with his traditional process, and on the other half he's trying out the new technology. Van Beek: 'Fantastic, right? With some farmers it takes more time to implement soil improvement. Gaining knowledge about your soil via a scanner is the first step. The question is then: what am I going to do with it? Not everyone has an answer to this right away. One may get started with the newly acquired knowledge, whereas the other takes that knowledge into consideration, to perhaps change something in the future. This second group can sometimes use some help.’
Expert agricultural advisors
For this reason, SoilCares has also been looking for the right distribution partners, such as NGOs, fertilizer companies and cooperatives. Sometimes farmers also want more than soil advice. They view the people who come to tell them about the SoilCares scanner as expert agricultural advisors, who can help in several areas. "If our partners are knowledgeable about the latest agricultural technology, then they can also support the farmers better.’
Part of the solution
Of course, a scanner alone does not mean that the harvest will improve immediately. Education is needed and in addition, there are other factors that a soil scanner cannot influence, such as drought and disease. The scanner is therefore not the solution to all the problems farmers may face, but may be part of a total solution. 'Fertilization is part of the production cycle', says Van Beek. "If we can help improve fertilization, we will help farmers in the right direction. All growth must start somewhere. '
SoilCares is now active in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Côte d'Ivoire and Namibia. But they are not only active in Africa. Van Beek: ‘We are also located in Myanmar, the Philippines, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, the United States, Mexico and the Netherlands. We aim to have collected soil samples from all of the world's countries by the end of 2019. 'On the SoilCares website, a map shows which countries have now been "calibrated", either completely or partially.
See the map
Read the Kenyan farmers’ success stories