With the majority of the world’s arable land located in Africa, efficient management and preservation of continuous soil fertility becomes imperative. Good soil health provides more yield which ensures improved standards of living. However, African soil has suffered so much from the depletion of nutrients. Farmers resort to uninformed fertilizer application, relying on their gut feelings in an attempt to improve their yield. But, due to the heterogeneity of the soil, fertilizer application sometimes results in leaching which is disadvantageous to not only soil fertility but also the underground soil water, soil microbes’ lives and nearby rivers or underground water sources.
Understanding the chemical, physical and biological makeup of soils is very important as it enables farmers to vary the concentration of nutrients in the soil, to provide a conducive environment for the optimal growth of crops. Thus, enabling a wise use of soil resources. This stems down to soil testing. The traditional soil testing method in Ghana employs wet chemistry, which involves farmers fetching soil samples from their farms and sending it to soil labs in the local Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) offices near them. This traditional method, however, has proven ineffective and inefficient due to the following:
- Expensive: the traditional method costs approximately up to GHc 500.00 per sample. The more the samples, the higher the cost.
- Time consuming: the results from these tests are released mostly close to 6 weeks after the samples are sent to the lab.
- Incomprehensible soil test results: most farmers do not understand the soil test results issued them due to the technicalities involved.
As a result, farmers prefer not to test their soil before applying fertilizers or cultivating their crops. However, this proves not a prudent path to thread in attempting to feed the 230 million Africans who are chronically malnourished and make the continent more prosperous.
Objectives of FarmSens
The following are the objectives of the FarmSens project;
- Develop an affordable, portable, robust and highly sensitive soil testing device for real-time soil testing
- Provide farmers with real-time comprehensible information on soil test results that reflects the true physical, biological and chemical nature of their soils
- Recommend fertilizers to farmers based on soil test results to improve soil fertility with extension advice on best fertilizer application methods
- Recommend suitable crops and their varieties to farmers based on their soil test results, geographical location and market value with extension advice on best cultivation methods.