A groundbreaking project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), is set to empower smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with innovative bio-inputs. The project is titled “Making effective bio-inputs work for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa” (BioSSA).
The goal of the project is to unleash the potential of bio-inputs, microbial-based products that improve soil health, increase nutrient availability, enhance crop yields, boost farmer incomes, and improve the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of African small holder farming systems in the face of a changing climate. African smallholder farmers face many challenges, including degraded land, unpredictable weather patterns, and resource constraints. Over the years, African small holder farmers have had their productivity limited by factors of low-input agriculture, characterised by limited fertilizer use and poor yields.
Others are Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) deficiencies; thus further hampering agricultural productivity and food security. Hence, why BioSSA focuses on microbial inoculants as a promising alternative, in response to concerns about the cost and environmental impact of traditional fertilizers. According to reports, the groundbreaking strategic collaboration is the first in Africa and is poised to accelerate progress, ensuring the successful development and deployment of bio-input innovations that will positively impact smallholder farmers across Africa.
According to IITA Deputy Director-General, Research for Development, Bernard Vanlauwe, “BioSSA represents a critical step towards empowering African smallholder farmers with innovative tools to enhance their productivity and resilience in the face of climate change. By harnessing the power of bio-inputs, we can unlock the potential of African agriculture, empower millions of farmers, boost food production, and build a more resilient future for the continent”. The project strategically targets two pivotal crop categories: grain legumes comprising soybean, cowpea, Phaseolus bean; and the cluster of roots, tubers, and bananas, including cassava, yam, and banana/plantain.
The project’s initial phase will focus on collecting evidence to assess the effectiveness of candidate microbial strains. Over the subsequent stages, the project will strategically shift its focus towards identifying deployment pathways, culminating in the development of innovative bio-input products. The project adopts a stage-gated approach, with initial testing and validation of microbial strains in sub-Saharan African conditions. The subsequent focus will shift to product development and exploring effective deployment pathways to benefit the fields where innovation is mostly needed. BioSSA’s key outcomes include identifying and validating microbial strains, understanding bio-input science, developing user-friendly and affordable products, and building partnerships and capacity.
This comprehensive approach seeks to create a sustainable bio-input ecosystem in Africa, prioritising the needs of smallholder farmers and driving positive transformation in agricultural practices. Facilitated by IITA through a dynamic public-private partnership (PPP), the project is designed to boost productivity and enhance resilience in response to climate change. Other partners of the project include Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (US), Aphea.Bio (Belgium), Azotic Technologies (Canada), Embrapa (Brazil), Groundwork BioAg (Israel), Switch Bioworks (US), and UCLouvain (Belgium).