Sampling the fertility status of agricultural soils across Ethiopia and providing access to an expanded range of blended soil nutrients has the potential to change fertilizer use around the country.
The Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS) project gathers and analyzes soil samples from each of the country’s 18,000 agricultural kebeles to develop soil fertility maps and fertilizer recommendations for each region. In providing up-to-date soil fertility data, the project has challenged the long-standing belief in Ethiopia that DAP and Urea fertilizers should exclusive and uniformly be used across varied soils. Instead, it has demonstrated that tailored fertilizer application can restore the fertility of a variety of soils found to be deficient in several essential nutrients.
Accurate information about soil fertility is critical to developing smart policies regarding the preservation and rehabilitation of Ethiopia’s natural resources. It is particularly important given the country’s present challenge of food security, and its need to formulate effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Information on the fertility properties of the country’s diverse soils will enable Ethiopia to continue its tremendous gains in crop production and productivity over the coming years, while simultaneously ensuring that growth is achieved through sustainable means.
Since its launch in 2012, EthioSIS has completed soil sampling and fertilizer recommendations for the Amhara, SNNP, Tigray, and Harari regions, as well as Dire Dawa City Administration. Regional atlases have been published for Tigray, SNNP, and Amhara that include recommendations which could improve the production and productivity landscape of the country. A regional atlas for Oromia is under production. A total of 614 agricultural woredas and 59 confluence points were surveyed in these areas. Additionally, soil fertility surveying is complete in Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella, while work in Afar and Somali is due to be completed by the end of 2016.
EthioSIS is the first initiative of its kind in Africa, employing remote sensing satellite technology and other state-of-the art techniques for soil surveying. Wet-chemistry analysis using instruments with high-detection limits, like MP-AES, ICP and CN analyzers are utilized, as are rapid, non-destructive infrared spectroscopy and laser diffraction particle size distribution analysis techniques. A grid-based survey maps the biophysical resources of the country for long-term decision support. In addition, the project will deliver a national soil map predicted by using geo-statistics and ensembling models, machine learning methods that increase the accuracy of the model to predict soil properties.
Parallel to the soil fertility mapping, EthioSIS carries out capacity building for the National Soil Testing Center (NTSC) and five regional soil testing laboratories. Each center is furnished with the appropriate equipment for the work it is expected to do, and staff are trained on equipment handling and soil analysis techniques.
The project’s extensive soil sampling work has led to the recommendation on ways to improve soil health and fertility, including the use of at least 12 different fertilizers, which can be applied with or without potash depending on the status of each soil, to address the nutrient deficiencies of soils around the country.
The fertilizer blending project runs parallel with EthioSIS, whose soil fertility maps and fertilizer recommendations have led to the production of tailored fertilizers to address the nutrient deficiencies in Ethiopian agricultural soils. With support from the Government of Ethiopia, five farmers’ cooperative unions (FCU) were selected to produce blended fertilizers in the four largest states in the country: at Becho-Woliso and Gibe-Dedesa FCUs in Oromia, Merkeb FCU in Amhara, Enderta FCU in Tigray, and Melke-Silte FCU in SNNP.
These FCU-owned fertilizer blending facilities are leveraging the data generated by EthioSIS to identify and produce customized blended fertilizers within Ethiopia. Each blending factory has an annual blending capacity of 50,000 metric tons of fertilizers.