Developing a microbial soil-treatment technology for crop protection against drought


GCRF AgriFood Africa Innovation Awards Round 3





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About the project

UK-registered Partner: University of Durham – Stephen Chivasa
Africa-registered Partner: Verager Ltd – Maureen Vere

Smallholder farming in Southern Africa is vulnerable to droughts, which are a major cause for poor agricultural productivity. Most of the soils in this region are severely degraded, with diminished water-holding capacity exposing crops to drought stress even under low-moderate rainfall.

Smallholder cowpea farmers in the supply chain of a Zimbabwean food manufacturing company (Verager Ltd.) are grappling with low crop yields in these poor soils. Verager Ltd. makes vegetarian burgers, sausages and mince from cowpeas as a way to develop a mutually beneficial thriving cowpea value chain.

Research at Durham University has demonstrated that seeding the degraded soils with a specific microbial consortium provides crops with durable protection from drought. The microbes come from a dynamic ecosystem known to have remained undisturbed by anthropogenic activities for several hundreds of years.

In this project, Durham University conducted experiments to establish the physical parameters promoting high microbial potency and to understand the stress-adaptive responses activated for drought protection. Verager Ltd. organised a stakeholder workshop in Harare (Zimbabwe), which was themed “Convergence of Agritech and Business Innovations to Develop Agriculture Value Chains”.

The workshop brought together farmers, academic researchers, government agencies, banks, seed companies, non-governmental development agencies, and many other stakeholders. Discussions centred on creating a framework encompassing technology adoption, innovative business models for farmer supply chain clusters, market penetration and fair pricing, innovations widening farmer access to banking products, and government’s role in policy-making to fairly regulate contract-farming.

Learn more about the project in this recording from our recent GCRF AgriFood Africa Project Showcase event.


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