Mercy Corps investigates factors that drive soil testing by smallholders

What are the factors that drive soil testing and subsequent uptake of soil treatment recommendations by smallholder farmers? Searching for the answer to this question, Mercy Corps conducted a pilot program to test the uptake of AgroCares technology by making the Scanner available at selected depots of iProcure, Kenya’s largest agricultural supply chain platform.

Declining soil fertility levels

Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa often reach sub-optimal yields due to poor soil fertility. However, farmers are usually not aware of the problems with their soil and how to restore the soil’s nutrient balance. The first step to improved soil fertility is having the soil analyzed and getting insight into its status and actual nutrient needs. However, the high cost and lack of access to soil testing services have been major drawbacks for smallholder farmers. Mercy Corps Agrifin decided to investigate which factors motivate smallholder farmers to test their soil. To do so, they set up a pilot program making the AgroCares Scanner available at selected iProcure depots and testing different customer journeys/sensitization models.

Five factors that motivate farmers to test their soil

Mercy Corps recently published an article discussing the outcome of the research. The key findings show that:

  • Farmers perceive soil testing as a high-value service, and this is correlated to the perceived and actual cost.
  • Human touch is critical to the process. Farmers who were in touch with agents were 3 to 4 times more likely to implement their recommendations and more likely to recommend soil testing to their friends respectively.
  • Farmers are motivated to test by fear of bad harvests or to diagnose problems with their current practices.
  • Youth are more than 1.2 times more likely to take up soil testing than older farmers, but women are more likely to implement recommendations than men.
  • Social networks and professional support services are both important sources of information for farmers and trust drives active use.

The report

Read the full report of Mercy Corps on Improving Soil Testing among Smallholders or check this infographic that illustrates how and when to promote uptake, adoption, and referral of soil testing services.