Market linkage – Agrocares soil scanner in Africa
This publication (PDF) by Agriterra and Agrocares evaluates a soil scanner in Kenya, to identify success factors, possible bottlenecks and the added value of innovative soil testing services for farmers. Africa is facing an escalating soil fertility crisis. To increase productivity whilst decreasing soil fertility decline, balanced fertilization is essential. Farmer cooperatives using soil scanners may be part of the solution. The portable, handheld soil scanner gives farmers real-time information on the nutrient status of their soil for informed decision-making on fertilization. Farmers indicated positive experiences with the scan, but it takes at least six months of investing to get these results. The main implementation challenges for farmers is the limited or no availability to recommended inputs. For cooperatives, logistics of collecting soil samples and communicating fertilizer recommendation can be challenging. Furthermore, a majority of farmers has no knowledge about the importance of soil testing and extension officers have insufficient knowledge to provide tailored advice to farmers based on a scan. A critical success factor for the implementation of soil scanner services, are the management and board of a cooperative. After-sales support for technical challenges, coaching of operators and providing promotion materials are also important. The evaluation team therefore developed two tools to support a sound introduction of soil testing services at cooperatives-level: a pricing mechanism calculation model for cooperatives; and a services model distinguishing four phases to systematically reach out to the innovators and early adaptors. Bringing an innovation to scale needs time and continuous support. Critical to the success is the position of the service providers, in this case the farmer cooperatives. Cooperatives should have their own input supply shop (or a good network) and have a check off payment system. The next step for the scanner is to integrate soil test information in platforms for data analysis.