Daktari Wa Udongo (Swahili for “Soil Doctor”) is a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Fintrac’s Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP), and Crop Nutrition Lab Services (Cropnuts). The project brings professional soil testing services to smallholder farmers in rural Kenya via agrodealer networks.
Smallholders are trained in soil sampling by Daktari Wa Udongo extension workers, then deliver their samples to a local agrodealer. The agrodealer sends samples to the Cropnuts soil testing laboratory in Nairobi where they are analysed. Full results are emailed to the agrodealer, while an SMS is sent to the farmer with specific soil and fertiliser recommendations. The farmer can access inputs and technical support from the agrodealer. Cropnuts have developed a web-based system, Inputs4Ag, to link farmers, agrodealers and input suppliers to ensure the necessary inputs are available to the farmers.
Cropnuts uses spectrometer analysis that delivers results quickly and is low cost at Ksh 2,500 ($30) per sample. This can still be a considerable cost for smallholders, so extension workers provide on-site training and use demonstration plots to show the potential benefits. The demonstration plots also exhibit better agricultural techniques, such as proper plant spacing and use of organic mulch, to farmers who have not yet bought in to the service. This helps to raise incomes so that farmers can afford to buy into the scheme. Agrodealers make Ksh 500 ($6) per sample, which provides a significant incentive to promote the technology and proper techniques to farmers. Furthermore, discounted services are offered to first-time customers at Ksh 1,500 ($18).
Mary Afande Lwaka is a farmer who was one of the first 670 smallholders to receive soil recommendations by SMS. She had been adding fertilizer to her soil without realising it was making the soil acidity worse and damaging her yield. Soil analysis showed that she actually needed lime, which improved her soil health and crop yields dramatically. Another Cropnuts customer, Samuel Tanui, reports that “by implementing all the recommendations, we have almost doubled our production.” By April 2015 the soils of almost 8,000 farmers had been analysed, and Cropnuts analyse up to 5,000 samples per year.