This study aims to investigate the constraints to the adoption of a new affordable automated system for delivering balanced fertilizer recommendations to farmers and compare it with recommendations from government soil testing laboratories.
Smallholder farmers in low-income countries often invest a large proportion of their production costs in fertilizer. Experimental evidence points to the need for balanced nutrient application in order to maximize the efficiency of each synthetic compound. Currently, most farmers rely on blanket fertilizer recommendations which fail to account for this variability. A lack of reliable knowledge on fertilizers and uncertain fertilizer supply chains present major obstacles for the adoption of more efficient agricultural practices. The study aims to investigate the constraints to the adoption of a new affordable automated system for delivering balanced fertilizer recommendations to farmers and compare it with recommendations from government soil testing laboratories. In this study a randomized control trial of a new automated mobile system for delivering personalized fertilizer recommendations is deployed as intervention. The recommendations are generated through a user-friendly digital interface.
The intervention was carried out by the People’s Action for National Integration (PANI) in two districts of Uttar Pradesh. From a list of villages where PANI had existing operations, 20 were selected for inclusion in the pilot. The intervention included the provision of fertilizer recommendations using both the automated NE system and a soil testing laboratory facility with and without time bound procurement of fertilizer to wheat cultivating smallholder farmers during the Rabi growing season. Of the 20 selected villages, 8 received NE fertilizer recommendations, 8 were administered recommendations from soil-testing laboratories and the remaining were given no recommendations.
Following the intervention, 600 randomly selected households (25 households in 24 villages) were surveyed using the household questionnaire, which captured information on demographics, agricultural production decisions, yield, income, consumption expenditure, and assets. A comparison of differences in take-up rates between different treatments shed light on the extent to which both information and market inefficiencies are a constraint to adopt improved soil fertility management practices.
Most farmers in India tend to rely on blanket fertilizer recommendations which fail to account for the current soil fertility status as well as the nutrient demands of the cropping system. The baseline results are consistent with insights from previous studies, emphasizing a heavy reliance on nitrogen-based fertilizers. This insight also implies that the supply chains for other nutrients have not been well established. As a result, even if farmers had the knowledge allowing them to adopt more effective fertilizer application practices, appropriate and timely supply of fertilizer may still remain a major constraint. As a result of the small sample and the demonetization policy which was implemented at the onset of the agricultural season causing severe shortage in cash among the rural population, it was not possible to capture the true impact of the recommendations on farmer practice. Hence, a longer-term project needs to be conducted over multiple seasons to control for such macro-economic shocks and be able to compare before and after conditions of the different study groups.