Rwandan cassava and potato farmers face the challenge of finding fertilizer recommendations to generate higher yields and profits. Current fertilizer recommendations are crop-specific but are not tailored to different locations, soil types, farm types, or field histories. This often leads to suboptimal responses to fertilizer application, over- or under-use of fertilizers, and a revenue loss to farmers.
The Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), in partnership with two CGIAR centers in Rwanda—the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Potato Center (CIP), and One Acre Fund are working to generate site-specific, tailored fertilizer recommendations that lead to more sustainable fertilizer use and higher cassava and potato yields through the application of AKILIMO.
AKILIMO is a digital platform that provides tailored fertilizer recommendations to farmers and extension service providers. Recommendations are developed based on digital soil and weather data combined with market and price information, and farmer cropping objectives and risk attitude.
The application of such a digital platform in Rwanda is timely, with the government, through RAB, advancing the use of digital tools to provide customized extension services to Rwandan farmers. In 2016, the Rwandan government approved its ICT4RAg strategy (2016‒2020) that expresses its interest in using ICT for more effective service delivery to farmers.
Implementation of AKILIMO in Rwanda
The overall objective of the project is to accelerate the intensification of cassava production in the Southern Province in Rwanda and support the potato value chain in the Northern, Western and Southern provinces.
AKILIMO is being calibrated in Rwanda based on existing fertilizer response data for cassava crop collected in CIALCA (Consortium for Improving Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Central Africa) in more than 50 locations across Nyanza, Ruhango, and Kamonyi districts, and data from potato trials conducted in 75 locations across the districts of Rubavu, Burera, and Rutsiro. The project is testing the effectiveness of AKILIMO recommendations compared with the current blanket recommendation through field validation trials.
The project will ensure that AKILIMO is customized for use in RAB’s extension system, including making the AKILIMO fertilizer recommendations available to farmers through a digital platform.
Commenting on the AKILIMO trials in Rwanda, Dr Athanase Nduwumuremyi, Senior Research Fellow/Roots & Tubers program Coordinator at RAB, said: “The introduction of AKILIMO platforms will contribute to improved cassava productivity in Rwanda. We expect these digital tools to provide fertilizer recommendations based on scientific factors, such as soil types and fertility, weather conditions, and market price information. It will also provide site-specific fertilizer recommendations and fertilizer use efficiency, which is essential for cassava or any other crop productivity.”
Furthermore, Athanase highlighted that the various interfaces of AKILIMO, such as the smartphone app and messaging platform (USSD or IVR) provide user-friendly tools, which could encourage farmers to adopt fertilizer in cassava farming systems.
“Therefore, we appreciate resources and much effort from our partners, mainly IITA and CIP, in ensuring that our people are food secure and financially stable through digitalized agriculture,” concludes Dr Athanase.
According to Dr Rukundo Placide, Senior Principal Research Fellow/Ag. Plant & Microbial Biotechnology Program Coordinator at RAB, “The introduction of AKILIMO will help farmers to use appropriate and precise fertilizers. This will positively impact the quality and quantity of potato yield and the farmers’ livelihood in Rwanda.”
IITA and partners initially developed AKILIMO to serve cassava farmers in Tanzania and Nigeria. An independent survey conducted by Acumen’s 60 Decibels consultancy group showed that 83% of randomly sampled farmers who started using the AKILIMO tools reported that their quality of life improved, and 88% said that they would recommend the technology to their friends and neighbors.
AKILIMO is highly complementary to the Rwanda Soil Information Service (RwaSIS) project launched by the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) through RAB in 2020. RwaSIS aims to guide agricultural sector interventions through improved availability of high-quality, digitally available data on soil properties. AKILIMO provides the tools to translate this soil information into tangible fertilizer recommendations to farmers.