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Smallholder farmers to benefit from soil testing service

The innovative, low-cost soil testing platform will allow it to serve millions of smallholder farmers in Africa.

Small scale farmers are set to benefit from a simple, innovative and low-cost soil testing platform.

This follows the launch of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based soil testing and digital crop advisory service dubbed AgViza by Crop Nutrition Laboratory Service Ltd (Cropnuts).

According to Cropnuts, an independent laboratory for agricultural and environmental testing, soil testing services have been out of financial reach for smallholder farmers, which is reflected in the fact that poor soil fertility remains a key driver of yield loss in smallholder farms across Africa.

“AgViza soil testing technology will change the status quo by empowering farmers with this critical soil management information,” read the statement by Cropnuts.

The livelihoods of smallholder farmers rely on resilient farming systems and this requires good soil management and the correct use of fertility inputs. This change can only be achieved with accurate field-level soil information, derived from soil testing.

The AgViza platform is built on five years of research and development drawing on Cropnuts’ extensive soil knowledge, combined with decades of experience serving African farmers and an extensive Africa-wide geo-referenced soil sample database. 

AgViza’s bespoke artificial intelligence engine measures soil fertility properties, which allows it to deliver high-quality soil health management and fertiliser application advice to farmers via interactive SMS, backed up by trained local agronomists.

“The combination of different technologies reduces the cost of soil testing by more than 75 per cent, making it more affordable for all types of farmers, especially smallholder farmers in remote locations,” the statement read.

Fertiliser needs

The innovative, low-cost soil testing platform will allow it to serve millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. This is critical to realising the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, improving their livelihoods while contributing to food security and economic growth. 

Currently, less than 0.5 per cent of smallholder farmers have used soil testing, illustrating the massive potential impact of this technology.

“With soil testing already incorporating organic soil carbon levels, the technology has an important role to play in combating climate change by measuring how adapting agricultural practices and inputs enhances soil health and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere,” the statement read.

AgViza is a B2B (Business to Business) service model that works through business partners such as fertiliser companies, produce aggregators, public sector extension, development organisations, digital market platforms and financial institutions and addresses key challenges within the smallholder agriculture sector.

These include, access to quality advisory services for smallholders, youth employment for graduate agronomists, access to finance and sustainable use of natural resources.

Once the partner agronomists collect the soil samples from farmers’ fields, AgViza’s soil testing engine will measure and correlate the soil fertility properties, which overcomes the need to use traditionally expensive and complex lab analysis processes.

Managing Director at Cropnuts, Jeremy Cordingley said they are positioning AgViza to become a key driver of financial inclusion for smallholder farmers.

“Soil testing will help farmers know the right fertiliser requirements and, in turn, this de-risks lending to farmers,” said Cordingley.

He added: “The field specific input recommendations will improve farmer yields, leading to higher incomes and improved repayment ability, giving financial institutions better assurance on their farmer loans. It also gives farmers greater confidence to invest in their land when they know exactly what to do and see the impact first hand.”

As a result, smallholder farmers can sustainably maintain healthy soils and achieve long-term productivity even when exposed to extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, which are being accelerated by climate change.

Agviza becomes a valuable service to value chains business partners who are working to build climate-resilient supply chains.

Saskia van der Mast, DOB Equity Co-CEO said after years of development and capturing thousands of calibration soil samples, Cropnuts now has a scalable and digital solution to enable millions of farmers to become more productive and profitable.

“We believe Cropnuts has the potential to accelerate investment in the agricultural value chains, increase food security, as well as manage climate risk,” he said.

Cropnuts has over 22 years of experience in providing soil testing and fertiliser recommendations to farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa. Over the years, it has helped improve soil health, crop yields and post-harvest compliance across several value chains.

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