8 Quality Management
SASKATOON – University
of Saskatchewan scientists
help farmers in West Africa
Derek Peak and Abimfoluwa Olaleye are using Canadian
Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan (Usask) to
help farmers in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin to grow
vegetables less expensively and more sustainably.
The USask researchers and their team recently published a paper in
Soil Systems that explores the effects of an innovative farming practice,
fertilizer microdosing, on two vegetable systems in both countries.
“The overall idea was to scale up good, innovative ideas to solve food
security problems in the regions,” says Peak. “We combine agricultural studies
out in the field with socio-economic studies and development work.”
Olaleye’s interest in the project is both scientific and personal.
“Anything agriculture always gets my interest, it’s something I’m passionate
about. And helping people is a big bonus. My dad was a farmer
back in Nigeria, so I picked up on that,” he says.
The work is part of a larger food security research project,
MicroVeg, funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada’s Canadian
International Food Security Research Fund. It is a multi-disciplinary
research project that is scaling up indigenous vegetable production in
Nigeria and Benin.
Normal agricultural practices involve spreading fertilizer across the
field and irrigating, which can wash away much of the fertilizer used.
The MicroVeg microdosing approach can produce similar yields with
as little as one eighth of the fertilizer.
Using less fertilizer is also better for the environment. Fertilizer runoff
can cause eutrophication in bodies of water, a serious environmental
problem that supercharges algal growth to the detriment of animal life.
“One of the best ways you can improve the environment is by making
it profitable to not pollute,” says Peak. Micro applications of fertilizer
do just that by optimizing the vegetable growing system. In fact, the
farmers included in this project were selected in part because of their
access to irrigation for their fields and markets to sell their produce.
However, when it comes to applying tiny amounts of fertilizer to
soil, a key question is if it is sustainable and if yields are coming at the
The Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan is a national
research facility, producing the brightest light in Canada – millions of
times brighter than even the sun. One of the largest science projects in
our country’s history, the CLS hosts annually more than 1,000 scientists
from around the world who use our light to conduct ground-breaking
health, agricultural, environmental and advanced materials research.
The Canada Foundation for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council, National Research Council of Canada, Canadian
Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Saskatchewan
and the University of Saskatchewan fund our operations.
expense of long-term soil health. Of course, this will depend on the
soil management practices, crops and ecology of the area.
To answer these questions, the researchers studied dry savanna
and rainforest soils where amaranth crop and African eggplant were
farmed, both before and after harvest.
“There are a few vegetables of huge cultural importance in that part
of the world and three are grown in both Nigeria and Benin Republic.
They’re popular, people enjoy eating them and the two we chose are
relatively straightforward to grow,” says Olaleye. This makes them economically
important vegetables as well.
With so many samples to observe, the Canadian Light Source at
the University of Saskatchewan was the ideal resource.
“One of the things that’s great about the SXRMB beamline at CLS
is that at realistic soil phosphorus levels you can study a sample in 30
minutes to an hour,” says Peak. “It’s one of the best techniques to
look at the chemical forms available in soil – and the fact that CLS is
engaged in agricultural research makes the CLS a great place to go.”
The synchrotron allowed the scientists to identify what was happening
to the phosphorus in the soils over the course of the growing season
– guiding future research and the recommendations that might be made
to farmers in the region. In both systems, the addition of nitrogen fertilizer
to the soil changed how phosphorus cycled, causing potentially detrimental
effects, but each region’s soil had sharply different results overall.
The Microveg team continues to work on soil and food security.
“Being able to help the security of 200,000 people while also applying
the stuff you do at a synchrotron is pretty fantastic,” says Peak.
photo: tetep_cs / @Pixabay