Rothamsted director Achim Dobermann was at the Argus Africa Fertiliser Conference this week explaining how a data driven approach could influence investment and policy in soil health and fertiliser use.
“Cereal yields in sub-Saharan Africa need to rise fast,” Professor Dobermann said. “We need the current cereals yield growth rate to increase by four to five times.”
There were a number of challenges for Africa, Professor Dobermann explained. “We need to make the right policy and investment decisions. We need to tailor fertilisers and recommendations. We need to move fast by innovating, harmonising, sharing and learning. And we need to get fertiliser to every farmer.” Demand-driven approaches could go a long way to addressing these issues so long as they were robust, scalable and pragmatic, he suggested.
Professor Dobermann highlighted the significant achievements of the Africa Soils Information Service project that had been running for the past decade that provided solutions at the sort of scale that could make impact.
But he said there was much more to do. “We need to make the tools and data better integrated and easier to access. We need to improve agronomic interpretation, deliver newer applications that are demand driven and ensure there is long-term financial sustainability.”
That, he said, was the reason for forming a new social good venture: Innovative Solutions for Decision Agriculture. “We want to build a lasting public-private platform that can link fundamental research with industry, leverage science capacity to build new products and address challenges in the public-good, pre-competitive and commercial arenas. And we want to set standards, policies and licencing agreements that ensure data can be integrated across organisations and user platforms.”
iSDA was a new approach and in the process of being founded by the current AfSIS partners, Professor Dobermann added. “Rothamsted, ICRAF and IITA have come together to form this new venture with an explicit intention that it should operate as an independent and agile startup that will determine its own future with its own governance and management team who will be responsible for its success.”