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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has supported the N2Africa project since 2009. Although proven in the context of US and Brazil, the N2Africa Phase I was the first major program to prove the efficacy of nitrogen fixation to enhance productivity at the smallholder level in Africa. During the four year project, N2Africa introduced smallholder farmers to biological nitrogen fixation by grain legumes; to the utilization of appropriate rhizobial inoculants; and to improved crop management practices to improve soil health and yields of both legumes and staple crops such as maize.

A potential N2Africa Phase II is in development. In addition to a continued focus on closing yield gaps through improved legume productivity, Phase II would address food security, family nutrition, soil health, gender empowerment and improved farmer income; all important initiatives or sub-initiatives under the foundation’s strategic objectives. Not only would the second phase of the project introduce improved legume varieties to smallholders in eleven countries, it would also build capacities in national legume and rhizobial inoculant research, as well as provide training in nutrition and gender sensitization and empowerment.

A major concern of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the delivery to and subsequent sustainable adoption of new technologies, including agronomic practices and improved crop varieties, by small holders. By working with a variety of development and private sector partners, and with the assistance of N2Africa business development specialists, Phase II would link smallholders to local, regional, and international legume output markets to insure that farmers have the economic incentives that support adoption. Finally, by building private sector partnerships with seed and fertilizer companies and developing potential inoculant facilities, the project would work to improve input markets to ensure that sufficient inputs of good quality are available to smallholders on a timely basis.

N2Africa Phase I was able to reach more than 225,000 farmers. In Phase II, the project will scale to reach an additional 550,000 farmers over 5 years. Because the project will train not only smallholder beneficiaries but partner NGO staff and national researchers, the foundation believes that the "spill-over" effect of a second phase project could benefit many more farmers in communities neighbouring target geographies.

Charlene McKoin, Senior Project Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation