“One mistake farmers make is not doing soil analysis before they farm. Proper soil analysis must be carried out to better understand the soil and how best to manage it. As crop inputs increase in price and climate change challenges farmers this is ever more important. We hope ntaka will make this information more affordable, accessible and understandable for an under-served community whose livelihoods depend almost entirely on farming”, explains Dr Benjamin Warr, CEO and founder of BetterWorld Energy and Project Coordinator of the ntaka Hyperlocal Soil Advisory Services project. The project was one of 12 selected across the five SADC countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia through a competitive Call for Proposals process and is supported by the Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme (SAIS 2). The 18 month long project is one of the four under the Scaling Enterprises thematic window receiving support from the SAIS 2 Innovation Fund and will be implemented in Zambia through a consortium of project partners.
The project will provide affordable soils advisory services to economically and environmentally challenged small scale farmers in rural Zambia. ntaka will develop hyperlocal low-cost precision spectroscopic methods to measure critical soil chemical, physical and biological properties. The project aims to improve access to soils advisory services through the establishment of a hyperlocal (mobile) soil spectroscopy laboratory to provide soils advisory services to over 10,500 farmers covering an area of 24,000 ha. The project has so far implemented the first key steps towards these goals.
So far, the project has managed to establish Zambia’s first professional independent Soil Spectroscopy Laboratory in Lusaka, hired an Innovation Lab Supervisor and a Soil Lab Technician to work in the facility which is almost entirely furnished with recycled furniture. The project consortium partners have started to work, such as MUSIKA, a non-profit organisation which stimulates and supports private sector investment in the agricultural market, and is providing equipment to process and analyse the soil with high precision as well as links to farmer networks. Another partner, GrassRoots Trust have started to engage local traditional authorities, community leaders and government officials to ensure the service is designed to meet local needs. The capacity building partner, ImpactAgri from UK and academic partners Stellenbosch University: Faculty of Agriculture will join the team in Zambia, to participate in a project kick-off workshop to develop training, quality control, business process design and impact assessment activities.
The project also aims to fully make operational the newly established BetterWorld Co-Create Space, that will enable the ntaka team to engage effectively with ‘network’ partners. The space will also serve 20 entrepreneurs who will be trained and mentored in providing marketing and service delivery support. “We are hoping to develop a resource of dynamic intern advisors who will assist us. Their passion will be in coding, finance, business models, design and marketing having positive social, environmental and economic impact. We have also established an Urban Garden where we showcase improved soil management for small urban farmers.” explains Kawewe Mwiinga, the Innovation Lab Supervisor. The next few months will include defining the list of participating farmers and commencing with the fieldwork and launching the rural kick off of the program.
Brian Sakala, Laboratory Technician testing an Equilab ball grinding mill to powder soils for spectroscopic analysis.