Microbial inoculants can improve soybean yields

Northern Ghana needs sustainable management practices that can boost yields and soil health while also being accessible to struggling farmers.

BHEARD scholar Korbla Edwin Akley is studying microbial inoculants and their impact on tropical soybean varieties, the soil microbiome and soil health.
BHEARD scholar Korbla Edwin Akley is studying microbial inoculants and their impact on tropical soybean varieties, the soil microbiome and soil health.

Low crop yields and declining soil health are the major obstacles to food and nutritional security in northern Ghana, where most of the farmers are poor smallholders. Inputs like mineral fertilizers and manure can improve poor yields and soil, but their availability to farmers is limited. What’s needed are sustainable management practices that can boost yields and soil health while also being accessible to struggling farmers.

As part of his search for best management practices in northern Ghana, BHEARD scholar Korbla Edwin Akley is studying microbial inoculants and their impact on tropical soybean varieties, the soil microbiome and soil health. Akley is a Ph.D. candidate pursuing a degree in Agronomy (Soil Microbiology) at Kansas State University (KSU).                                                                            

The Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, develops agricultural scientists and increases agricultural research capacity in Feed the Future partner countries, including Ghana. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

BHEARD gives scholarships to students seeking master’s and doctorate degrees at U.S. and regional universities, and provides funding for agricultural research in their home countries. The program also develops, tests and evaluates new models of small-scale institutional capacity development in partner countries.

Akley set up a field study in Nyankpala, Ghana, in 2016 and 2017. The project was funded by Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savanna Agricultural Research Institutes (CSIR-SARI), BHEARD and KSU. The goal is to increase yields in northern Ghana cropping systems through the use of commercial rhizobium inoculants, and also to improve soil health.

Early results from the study show that microbial inoculation can increase soybean yield by 30%. Inoculation also increases microbial biomass, a nutrient pool for plants. Other results suggest that inoculation can save half the fertilizer costs needed to achieve optimum maize yields.

It’s early, but the results of Akley’s research so far are very encouraging – particularly for farmers in northern Ghana, he said.

Akley and his academic advisor, Dr. Charles W. Rice, recently appeared on a talk show on K-State Community Radio to educate farmers in Kansas on the relevance of inoculating soybeans. They prepared an e-update on the same topic for K-State Research and Extension on Agronomy.

Akley will return to Ghana in August 2018 to finish his Ph.D. research. After earning his degree, he will resume work as a research scientist at CSIR-SARI, where he is currently on study leave. His future research work at SARI will focus on soil microbiology and ecology, soil health, soil carbon and nitrogen cycling in agricultural and natural ecosystems. He looks forward to building more collaborative research networks beyond the scope of KSU and CSIR-SARI.

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