‘In­oc­u­lant tech­nol­ogy can im­prove legu­mi­nous plant out-put’

Ab­dul­lahi Bala is a Pro­fes­sor of Soil Sci­ence and nd the Deputy Vice Chan­cel­lor (Aca­demic) of Federal Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Minna, Niger State. In this in­ter­view, speaks about In­oc­u­lant, a new tech­nol­ogy that uses bac­te­ria for ni­tro­gen fix­a­tion, ca­pab

Daily Trust - - RESEARCH - From Aliyu M. Ha­m­agam, Minna Pro­fes­sor Ab­dul­lahi Bala

What is In­oc­u­lant?

This is one thing that is rel­a­tively new in this en­vi­ron­ment. The in­oc­u­lant is some­thing that has been in prac­tice for over 100 years. Though it is not com­mon in Nigeria or West Africa, it is largely used in other parts of the world. Let me start from the ba­sis, if you look at the at­mos­phere, about 80 per­cent of the com­po­si­tion of the air we breathe is ni­tro­gen. This ni­tro­gen is not some­thing that is us­able by the plants and when we are talk­ing of ni­tro­gen, it is a nutrient el­e­ment that is re­quired for body build­ing by ev­ery liv­ing or­gan­ism, whether bac­te­ria, plant, an­i­mals or hu­man be­ings. We hu­man be­ings get this ni­tro­gen through the eat­ing of food con­tain­ing protein such as soya-beans, cow­pea, fish or meat prod­ucts. The build­ing block of the protein ac­tu­ally is the ni­tro­gen so by the time we feed on the food, the by-chemical func­tion in our body al­lows us to break these pro­teins un­til we get ni­tro­gen nutrient for our body build­ing. Plants do not need to take protein. Through the soil they ac­tu­ally pick up ni­tro­gen in its raw form. The prob­lem is that in most of the trop­i­cal soils, the ni­tro­gen con­tent is very low and that is why if you plant maize, you will find that if you don’t add ei­ther or­ganic or ma­nure or ni­troge­nous fer­til­izer, the maize may not grow to ma­tu­rity. It will be stunted and it will be yel­low and die be­cause of the ab­sence of ni­tro­gen. But if you plant legume plant such as soya-beans, cow­pea or ground­nuts with­out fer­tiliser which most farm­ers do, they are still able to get some­thing out of it. The dif­fer­ence be­tween maize and legu­mi­nous plant is the fact that legu­mi­nous plant has a mech­a­nism that al­lows it to har­ness this ni­tro­gen in the air, they will be able to sen­si­tise them for their own use and they do this by form­ing a sym­bi­otic mu­tual as­so­ci­a­tion with bac­te­ria in the soil that are able to fix this ni­tro­gen in the air into their own sys­tem and then these bac­te­ria are in the roots of these legu­mi­nous plants and, there­fore, they pro­vide ni­tro­gen for use of the legu­mi­nous plants. But the prob­lem we have with many of these soils is the bac­te­ria that are able to do this are ei­ther not enough or they are not the types that are very ef­fi­cient in fix­ing this ni­tro­gen for the use of the legu­mi­nous plants.

How can the in­oc­u­lant tech­nol­ogy im­prove the agri­cul­tural out­put of small holder farm­ers?

In­oc­u­lant tech­nol­ogy ac­tu­ally uses this par­tic­u­lar mech­a­nism to en­hance the ni­tro­gen fix­ing po­ten­tials of the plants. At the point of plant­ing, we mix the inoc­u­lants with the seeds be­fore plant­ing the seed so that as the seed is ger­mi­nat­ing, it is al­ready in con­tact with mil­lions of these bac­te­ria and, there­fore, it sim­ply forms this sym­bi­otic as­so­ci­a­tion and it will be able to en­hance its ni­tro­gen fix­ing abil­ity. That is all what the inoc­u­lants tech­nol­ogy is all about. It is just to boost the

inoc­u­lants pro­duc­tion?

im­prove

crop

Re­mem­ber, I told you that this is a new era. The N2Africa Project lever­ages on the ex­is­tence of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of soya-beans, cow­pea and ground­nuts that we al­ready have in the coun­try. What the project also does is try­ing those va­ri­eties with dif­fer­ent types of inoc­u­lants be­cause dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies pro­duce dif­fer­ent types of inoc­u­lants and then we try them in dif­fer­ent agroe­colo­gies to see the pat­tern and fre­quency of re­sponse. That is how much of the ni­tro­gen is fixed in a par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety of plant and in a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Es­sen­tially, that is what the re­search work is all about within the project. And we found since 2010 when we started this work that the re­sponse to in­oc­u­la­tions, depend­ing on the plant and the type of inoc­u­lants used, that it could be as low and as high as 6 per­cent and 50 per­cent re­spec­tively, depend­ing on the agro-ecol­ogy. Be­cause as we said, this inoc­u­lants rely on the fact that very lit­tle of the bac­te­ria is in the soil or the bac­te­ria in the soil are not ef­fi­cient enough. What the in­oc­u­lant does now is to in­tro­duce ef­fi­cient strength, so where you have a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion, where you have ef­fi­cient strength, lo­cally adopt­able strength, chances to re­sponses to in­oc­u­la­tion are low as com­pared to an­other lo­ca­tion where the ef­fi­cient strength are not there or they are not there in large num­bers in which case the re­sponse will be high. So, we have seen dif­fer­ences in terms of the mag­ni­tude of re­sponse but in gen­eral, re­sponse to the en­hance­ment of yield could be as much as 50 per­cent as a re­sult of inoc­u­lants use.

What is N2Africa Project?

N2Africa is an acro­nym for putting Ni­tro­gen Fix­a­tion to work for Small Farmer Hold­ers in Africa and it is a project that is funded by Bill and Melinda Gate foun­da­tion that pro­vide a plat­form for sci­en­tists and de­vel­op­ment part­ners to pro­vide ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies that har­ness the im­por­tance of legumes in us­ing at­mo­spheric ni­tro­gen to im­prove the soil. It is also used to im­prove the ni­tro­gen con­tent, largely through the use of legu­mi­nous plants such as soya-beans, ground­nuts, and cow­pea, other­wise called beans. Es­sen­tially, that is what the project is all about. It al­lows us to use the ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy that we know and worked, to be able to en­hance pro­duc­tiv­ity of farm­ers through in­creased food pro­duc­tion and also im­proved soil fer­til­ity.

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