Soil analysis goes digital

Harvest three times larger thanks to scanner

Farmers in developing countries can analyse their soil within 10 minutes using the handy SoilCares Scanner. The result? Harvests up to three times larger. Rabobank Foundation is investing 400,000 euros in the product launch.

Small-scale farmers in developing countries rarely know which crops are best suited to their soil. They lack knowledge on fertilizers, too, so they may use too much, too little or the wrong kind. Take Esther Njeri, a Kenyan widow with four children and 1.6 hectares of farmland. Njeri: “Every season I used a lot of diammonium phosphate fertilizer. Yet my cabbages died and harvests were disappointing.

Soil analysis within 10 minutes

Through her dairy cooperative, Njeri arranged to have her soil analysed using the SoilCares Scanner. This handy device from SoilCares, a Dutch company, tests the soil for acidity and nutrients. It comes with an app that shows farmers which crops are best to plant and how these crops should be fertilized, and all within 10 minutes.

150 of the Scanners were tested in Kenya at the beginning of 2017 during a pilot project co-financed by Rabobank Foundation. Since then, the Scanners have performed almost 5,000 soil analyses in Kenya and the first harvests are promising. “On average, revenues at larger-scale farmers are up 125%. Smallholders even report increases of 200 to 300%,” says Christy van Beek, Director of SoilCares Foundation. The positive results have prompted SoilCares to introduce it in other countries.

“Smallholders report harvest increases of 200 to 300%”

- Christy van Beek, Director of SoilCares Foundation

Not only are farmers earning more, food security in the region and soil quality have improved thanks to the Scanners, and less fertilizers are leaching into the groundwater. “Farmers are also learning a lot about the soil and crops, and are becoming more aware of responsible use of the soil,” Van Beek reckons.

Albert Boogaard, who is closely involved in the project as Head of Innovation at Rabobank Foundation, sees another major advantage: “It is often very difficult for small-scale farmers in developing countries to get financing for seeds or fertilizers. The Scanner can help increase lander confidence that the harvest will be successful and they will get their money back.”

“The Scanner helps increase lender confidence”

- Albert Boogaard, Head of Innovation at Rabobank Foundation

Overall package to help small-scale farmers

A significant issue came to light during the pilot. While farmers are prepared to pay for the scan and are happy with the advice, they do not always follow it, usually because they cannot afford the seeds or fertilizers. Van Beek: “That’s why we are now trying to set up consortia with seed suppliers and lenders, among others. Rabobank Foundation’s knowledge and network really add value here.”

“The Scanner should form part of an overall package to help small-scale farmers, ” adds Boogaard. “A package which includes advice about cultivation, access to fertilizers and seeds, and financing. The Scanner is also in line with our aim to digitize the chain, so that lenders can make better-informed decisions and farmers have access to the right services.”

Extra income for school fees

And Esther Njeri? Thanks to the Scanner, she found out that her soil was too acidic, and that she could use lime and special fertilizers to correct it. Njeri: “My spinach, oats and alfalfa are flourishing now. I paid the school fees for my youngest daughter from the extra income.”

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