Biological Nitrogen Fixation College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) Biological Nitrogen Fixation UH Seal Unversity of Hawaii at Manoa
Project History
Training Resources
Inoculant Technology
Project Impact

Project Impact

The global potential impact of BNF technology is enormous.
NifTAL was created to develop and transfer knowledge and technology of biological nitrogen fixation in legumes for the benefit of agriculture and general human welfare in developing countries.  This section documents the impacts that NifTAL has made toward achieving this goal.
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Currently, agricultural legumes account for approximately 35 million metric tons of N2 fixed per year. This is approximately 40% of the total N that is fixed as N-fertilizer. Increasing BNF of cultivated legumes and forestry species, even marginally, can have both large financial and environmental impacts. Both lower production costs and reduced loss of N to marine systems and to the atmosphere make it an attractive technology for research and development.

The BNF process can contribute up to 400 kg of nitrogen per hectare annually, yet the potential for BNF has not been fully realized in most developing countries. To maximize BNF, farmers can inoculate legumes with selected, superior strains of the rhizobia. This practice has supported well-developed manufacturing and marketing enterprises for inoculant products in North America, Australia, and Europe. In contrast, relatively few LDC farmers have access to quality legume inoculant products. The potential market is large and Asia is a good example.

For example, in Asia alone there are more than 61 million hectares of grain legumes cultivated, representing 43% of the world's total. The Asian consumer still derives more than 75% of protein intake from plant material, and legumes are the primary source of protein in many countries (UNFAO, 1991).

Total production of grain legumes in Asia increased 26% between 1980 and 1990, from 34.3 to 43.2 million metric tons resulting in a per capita production increase of 25%. Grain legumes produce approximately 24% of the protein of the combined wheat and rice crops of Asia. The growing demand for legume grain is not only due to increased population, but also to rising incomes in many parts of Asia. Income elasticity for dairy and animal products remains high, and then production is dependent on quality protein from legumes.

Legumes will continue to be a primary source of low-cost, high-quality protein in the future, especially where population densities are high and incomes remain low. As it is, per capita protein availability in many Asian countries is less than 40% of that in developed countries (similar to the situation in the poorest of African nations) and protein consumption is below that needed for adequate human nutrition. The following table projects the potential impact of developing inoculant markets in selected Asian countries sufficient to meet 20% of the legume area cultivated.

Potential annual contribution to the economies of selected Asian countries from rhizobia inoculant use on grain legumes1
Country Value of grain legume crop Inoculant cost (20% market penetration) Cost of inoculant Marginal value of yield increase (8%) Net farm revenue increase
  $U.S. billion Metric tons ---------------$U.S. million---------------
China 1.82 1819 9.1 145.3 136.2
Bangladesh 0.07 87 0.4 5.5 5.1
India 2.23 4028 20.1 178.8 158.7
Indonesia 0.17 270 1.4 13.2 11.8
Pakistan 0.03 44 0.2 2.3 2.1
Philippines 0.10 179 0.9 8.0 7.1
Thailand 0.10 149 0.7 7.9 7.2
Turkey 0.31 275 1.4 27.8 26.4
Vietnam 0.14 213 1.1 11.4 10.3
Total 4.97 7065 35.3 397 361.7

Data assume 20% market penetration with inoculant. Grain legumes considered include soybean, groundnut and 'pulses' (sum of chick pea, bean, lentil, etc.). Prices of grain legumes are world trade prices (1990) rather than local; lentils are used as a proxy price for 'pulses'. Response to inoculation is assumed to be 8% of base yields of current values from UNFAO. Relative response is based on a conservative fraction (50%) of that observed in trials and estimates using inoculation response models and soils database from seven Asian countries as an approximate value for the region. Inoculation rates are assumed to be 0.60 kg ha-1 of a sterile carrier based inoculant product priced at $2.50 retail with a cost of application of $0.50.
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Technology and Program Constraints to Increasing Legume BNF:

New inoculant products and production methods

Both strain performance and improved product formulation are necessary to increase the rate of market development and the net benefit from the technology. The revolution in molecular biology offers potential to increase inoculant shelf life, competitiveness with native strains and survival in the often harsh soil conditions of LDC farms. Strain acquisition and testing, new product formulations for enhanced performance and lower production costs, and product formulations and strains that permit pre-inoculation of seed would greatly accelerate impacts from BNF.

Improved varieties and management of legumes

The increase in BNF from improved management strategies is large and consistent. New plant varieties with high yield potential, high capacity for BNF and tolerant to environmental conditions are a prerequisite for increasing BNF. Improved soil fertility almost universally increases inoculant performance and BNF. It will be necessary to develop useful information systems to improve nutrient and soil management strategies for legumes.


Trained personnel in general Rhizobium technology and research are now in place in most countries. What is lacking is training in the private sector in production methods and quality control and in testing, demonstration, and application methods in the extension services of most countries.

The Impact of NifTAL Programs on Improving Agriculture in Developing Countries
NifTAL has carried out its mission of knowledge and technology transfer of biological nitrogen fixation through research, training and outreach programs aimed at improving agriculture in developing countries.  The impact of NifTAL programs are summarized below in the following categories:
  1. Macro-economic impact where assessments have been made
  2. Impact on inoculant production
  3. Human resource development
  4. Research, germplasm, communications - technical assistance and services
  5. Soil management technology
1. Macro-economic impact assessments.

Three national assessments have been conducted on the macro-economic impact of BNF technology. Two, Thailand (publication available) and Zambia (report available), are comprehensive examinations of the history and results of investment and income impact in inoculant production and marketing. The other, Indonesia, is a more cursory examination (available as a consultant's report).

Thailand: Following is a summary of net income impact from Thai inoculant production that was complied by Sarun and Wadisisrisuk (DOA Extension and DOA Thailand). Income multipliers are not incorporated into the calculations, therefore, results represent only net income at the farm derived directly from the use of inoculant. Calculations do not include increased income derived from improved fertility management of legumes that were part of the program to develop inoculant technology in Thailand. Investment in inoculant production in Thailand is estimated at $ 3.5 million U.S. made available by a soft loan from USAID.

Cumulative impact of rhizobial inoculant classified by types of legume during 1980-1993.
Year Soybean Groundnut Mungbean Total Value of N Replaced by Rhizobium (Mil.$)
----------------------------------------MILLION US$--------------------------------------
1980 0.1 0.3 0.04 0.44 0.04
1981 0.1 0.3 0.06 0.46 0.04
1982 0.1 0.2 0.03 0.33 0.04
1983 0.6 0.3 0.04 0.94 0.27
1984 1.5 0.4 0.26 2.16 0.61
1985 1.7 0.4 0.50 2.60 0.68
1986 3.5 0.8 0.40 4.70 0.86
1987 7.3 0.4 0.10 7.80 1.38
1988 17.3 0.9 0.36 18.56 4.02
1989 13.6 2.0 0.37 15.97 3.66
1990 15.2 2.4 0.25 17.85 4.07
1991 9.8 1.5 0.34 11.64 2.87
1992 8.1 5.9 1.20 15.20 2.16
1993 21.3 1.2 0.25 22.75 5.16
TOTAL 100.2 17.0 4.20 121.40 25.92

NifTAL participation was primarily through technical assistance and human resource development through the NifTAL/DOA BNF Resource Center for South and Southeast Asia that was initiated in 1982. A NifTAL consultant, Joe Burton, designed the first commercial scale facility in Thailand under this USAID sponsored program. NifTAL assistance included strain development and training and, inoculation trials. Extensive extension demonstration by DOAE began in 1982 with NifTAL/BNFRC participation. From that point continuous extension training and demonstration led to large increases in legume inoculant use. The BNFRC provided technical assistance, NifTAL designed fermentors, production methods and designs to Bangkok Seed Company to enter the inoculant market. They now market 400,000 units of inoculant in Thailand.

View whole document:   "Extension Programs to Promote Rhizobial Inoculation in Thailand" available in MS WORD Version PDF Version

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Zambia: This program was a joint effort by NifTAL and the University of Illinois ZAMARE Project (USAID/Zambia). Four years of technical assistance, research, facilities design and market development by NifTAL led to the following economic impact. Results represent only net increase in farm income with no income multipliers included in the calculations.

Production and value of inoculated soybean produced in Zambia 1984/84 to 1991/92. See Annex I for values of total soybean production.
Season Inoculated area Production from inoculated area Production value of inoculated soybean Value due to inoculation Value of N-Fertilizer replaced by BNF
  (ha) (90 kg bags) $ U.S. $ U.S. $ U.S.
1984/85 6,550 131,003 1,190,760 571,565 503,560
1985/86 7,069 141,386 1,108,344 532,005 180,060
1986/87 5,983 119,666 1,060,517 509,048 71,400
1987/88 9,542 190,848 2,070,701 993,937 236,950
1988/89 9,145 182,916 2,560,824 1,229,196 189,620
1989/90 11,906 238,134 5,498,029 2,639,054 281,050
1990/91 20,000 488,889 11,766,951 5,648,136 1,959,940
1991/92 22,786 455,716 11,992,526 5,756,412 1,949,670
TOTAL 92,981 1,948,558 $37,248,652 $17,879,353 $5,372,250
Total investment by NifTAL/USAID/University of Illinois was approximately $550,000 including a direct grant to NifTAL for $300,000 for technical assistance.

View whole document: "Review of Legume Inoculant Use in Zambia" available in MS WORD Version  PDF Version

Indonesia. BNFRC/NifTAL was instrumental in providing technical assistance, facilities design, technical training, and germplasm to a private concern, Rhizogin PTY that now distributes more than 1.0 million packets of inoculant per year. An assessment of projected value of inoculant use in Indonesia by the year 2000 was made in 1986 (report available).

Estimated value of inoculant use in Indonesia in the year 2000

Crop yield
Projected Area
N in Crop
kg N
kg (millions)
$ U.S.
1180 300,000 23.9 157


Data based on projected area required to meet national needs (Hedly, CGPRT report no. 10); Yield increase estimates based on soil surveys and NifTAL crop response models; Assumes N harvest index of 80% and FUE of 33%; Price of N used is $220/metric ton N.

View whole document: "Employing BNF Technology in Indonesia: Assessment of Infrastructure, Manpower and Research Needs" available in MS WORD Version   PDF Version


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2. Impact of NifTAL Research and Technology on Inoculant Production.

NifTAL Designed Fermentors. A low cost small-scale fermentor suitable for start up operations. Private firms in Hawaii and Thailand now manufacture the fermentor according to our specifications.

Impact. More than 30 have been marketed to at least 12 countries; most recently a firm in Honduras purchased a complete unit from Innovative Technology Associates in Hawaii. A request for a quotation for six fermentors has been received from Canada. Even at 15% utilization fermentors already in place could represent inoculant production sufficient to inoculate 300-500,000 ha.

Dilution of Broth Cultures in Sterilized Carrier. This technique developed (Somasegaran, et al. 1982) and popularized by NifTAL is used throughout the world where inoculant producers pre-sterilize carriers. Examples of producers adopting the technology are Bangkok Seed; Rhizogin PTY, Indonesia; Biotech, Philippines; Yellowstone Valley Chemical, Montana; MAWD, Zambia; Madvanhi Group, Uganda.

Impact. This technique reduces cost of production of inoculant by 10% and increases the quality of the product 10 fold and doubles shelf life compared to traditional methods. Impact most likely includes improved performance but we have no data for this aspect.

RESPONSE - Models to Predict Performance of Legume Inoculant in the Field. A simple computer model is now in use that facilitates the use of soil surveys to predict inoculant performance in the field.

Impact. The computer models have been widely distributed and have been used to make assessments of need for inoculant and market potential in more than 15 countries including Indonesia, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand, Nicaragua, Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania.

MPNES - Most Probable Number Enumeration System. Software to more precisely enumerate rhizobia in inoculant.

Impact. In use in several countries including Canada which has adopted it as a standard for determining inoculant quality.

Quality Control Methods. Developed new Q.C. systems (selective media, ELISA kit, small seeded legume system) suitable for small producers in developing counties.

Impact. Two systems under evaluation for suitability and effectiveness with 20 producers around the world. Initial tests with producers in Nicaragua and Honduras indicate that want to include the methods in the production system. one U.S. firm uses a selective media developed by NifTAL in its product testing.

Financial Analysis for Inoculant Manufacturing Enterprises. This software program assists entrepreneurs or government inoculant producers who wish to privatize their units to make financially rational planning decisions and conduct various financial analysis for presentation to lenders.

Impact. The program has been widely distributed and used to develop business plans and analysis for several producers including Rhizogin, Kenya Seed Co., Mahdvani Group, Maharastra Seed Co.

Micro-Production Unit. This design blends several NifTAL technologies that aims to provide an "off the shelf" solution to inoculant production in extremely small markets. The break even point of this unit is substantially lower than traditional designs. Impact.

Impact. This design is new and will be first used in Uganda (1.0 ton) and Nicaragua (3.0 ton) this year.

Global Database of Inoculant Producers. Results of a survey of inoculant producers around the world indicate the existing and potential impact of NifTAL technology and programs on the industry.

Impact. The following table demonstrates the over all impact in terms of technology acceptance and training on inoculant producers.

Percent of inoculant producers indicating their benefit from NifTAL programs and services and need for global coordination of producers.

Service Category Inoculant Producers
Government/University Private Sector
Producers receiving NifTAL Training 43 26
Have used NifTAL services 81 56
Have used NifTAL cultures 52 22

Interest in International Association of Producers

90 89
Interest in Product Quality Certification 71 93
Interest in Product Evaluation Network 57 89

Results from 48 producers responding to survey.

Other Impact: NifTAL has assisted development of seven inoculant production facilities that last year produced $1.6 million worth of inoculant for more than 1.0 million hectares. Market value of replacement of N fertilizer could reach $300 million.

3. Human Resource Development.

NifTAL has conducted organized training courses since its inception. These training programs are an integral part of NifTAL's effort to increase the performance of legumes and inoculant in the field. Training courses include: Basic Rhizobium Technology; Inoculant Production; Quality Control of Inoculant; Applied BNF Technology for Extension Specialists; Dealer Training in Inoculants and Their Use. NifTAL has sponsored 35 graduate students and has entertained more than 50 professional scientists in its visiting scientist-training program. More recently, NifTAL has emphasized training inoculant producers from the private sector in Thailand, Nicaragua, Honduras, India and Uganda and Extension Specialists and PVO's including those from Indonesia, Thailand, Uganda, Haiti, and Nepal. Approximately 700 men and women have participated in organized short coarse training with NifTAL.

Impact. A survey of NifTAL short course training participants indicate: a) many went on to design their own training courses resulting in at least another 1,643 people trained with NifTAL training materials and methodology; b) almost 70% of respondents indicate they are producing inoculant; c) half indicated that their training improved the quality of inoculant they produced; d) half now distribute rhizobia cultures to others and have provided technical assistance to others outside their institutions.

4. NifTAL Communications, Germplasm, and Research Support Services.

This aspect of the NifTAL program is an integral part of implementing improved BNF technology in the field. NifTAL germplasm resides in most germplasm collections and is used by a substantial number of inoculant producers. Researchers from many developing countries rely on our literature services and technical support from staff in experimental design and program development. Inoculant is provided as a service to those who cannot produce their own or do not have access to inoculant for exotic species that are involved in their demonstration and testing programs.

Year Materials Units provided Countries
1986-1991 Rhizobia germplasm 2304 58

Experimental inoculant


  Antisera 1215 24
1991-1992 Rhizobial germplasm


  Experimental inoculant 900


  Technical information/literature 576


1992-1993 Rhizobial germplasm 711 31
  Experimental inoculant 763 23
  Technical information/literature 517 >50

Impact. Researchers have improved pure strains and high quality inoculant for their collections and for field testing. These material services and technical support increase the likelihood inoculant rhizobia will perform properly in the field. That these services and other outreach activities have been effective is demonstrated by the change int eh nature of requests. In the beginning strain and inoculant requests were almost exclusively for standard grain legumes. As NifTAL distributed germplasm and there were more producers making inoculant requests for grain legumes diminished in favor of tree legumes and green manures.

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5. Soil Management Technology Research.

Several programs of research in this area have an impact in the field.

Synergism Between Soil Fertility Inputs and Inoculant Performance. This research has been documented in several NifTAL programs (Singleton et al, 1986; Cassman et al. 1993; Nyemba, 1985). Testing the interaction of non-N plant nutrients on legume and inoculant performances a major theme of NifTAL's International Network of Legume Inoculation Trials (Davis and Cady). Below is data from 1988-1993 farmer demonstration trials in Thailand that reflect the results of NifTAL's research and network trial design.

Average yield (kg/ha) of legumes due to Rhizobium inoculation and fertilizer application in 87 on farm demonstrations 1988-1993.
Control Rhizobium Rhizobium + P + K Rhizobium + N + P + K
893 kg/ha 1302 kg/ha 1455 kg/ha 1325 kg/ha

Soil Microbiology Research Group, DOA Thailand. 
Number of trials = 87 from 1988-1993, N application is 100 kg N/ha

Impact. As a result of this research inoculant promotion is done in concert with the use of other inputs in Thailand and other countries.

Use of Short Duration Rice Varieties to Enhance Performance of BNF by Sequentially Cropped Legumes. This program was done in collaboration with four Philippine institutions. Results indicate that farmers in certain ecosystems can enhance their systems profitability by switching to short duration rice varieties in rain fed systems. System productivity is enhanced by conservation of moisture for sequentially cropped legumes:

Partial budget analysis of early and late maturing rice varieties and inoculation of three sequentially cropped legumes in Camiling and Batac, Philippines.
  Net marginal value of component1 technology and system2  
  1990-1991 1991-1992 1992-1993  
Component Component System Component System Component System System mean
  ---------------------------------------P ha-1----------------------------------------






1938 1375 2851 4554 8919


Mungbean 2231 1668


6245 3991



1 Partial budgets use late maturing (IR74) and un-inoculated legumes following IR72 to evaluate net marginal value of rice variety and inoculation components of the crop system respectively. 2Net marginal value of the 'System' is the sum of legume and IR72 components. Price of palay rice is P 4.50 kg-1 and P 3.68 net of harvest costs. Legume prices are assumed to be - P kg-1 (net = net of harvest costs): soy P 12.00 (P 9.82 net); mung bean P 18.50 (P 14.72 net); bean P 12.00 (P 9.82 net). Cost of inoculation is set at 124 P ha-1 including labor (P 65.00 d-1). IR74 matures approximately 15 d after IR72 at all sites and years. Data is the mean of 'upland' and 'lowland' plots at Batac but only 'lowland' plots at Camiling since drought prevented any measure of harvest from these plots in all years.

Impact. Reports from collaborators indicate that the field day demonstrations and seed distribution undertaken in Tarlac and Batac Philippines as part of this research program resulted in about 8000 ha being converted to IR72. The potential financial impact realized by farmers is reduced below that of experimental potential by the fact they do not have access to inoculant.

Conservation of BNF-N in Lowland Rice Systems. This research was done in cooperation with IRRI. Results identified relatively passive technologies that could conserve up to 60 kg N/ha of legume derived N.

Impact. No impact has been measured from this program to date.

U.S. Impacts
Seed inoculation has been widely practiced in the U.S. since the 1960s.  NifTAL's impacts have been through improved technologies and stimulation of new industries. U.S. company figures on production costs, sales, and markets remain proprietary, and data are not available on the impacts of NifTAL technologies on the firms' balance sheets.
  • Yellowstone Valley Chemical in Montana, a subsidiary of United Agri-Products, adopted inoculant production methodology developed at NifTAL. This method, called the "dilution technique", increases output capacity by up to 1000-fold over traditional production methods, and results in a superior inoculant products that often contain 10 times the number of rhizobia than other U.S. brands. Consequently, Yellowstone has been easily able to export their products to Canada since they meet the stringent Canadian quality standards.
  • Urbana Laboratories, a legume inoculant producer in Missouri, has adopted a novel medium developed by NifTAL researchers that shortens some quality control measures by several weeks. This medium replaces other time-consuming and labor-intensive tests, saving both time and money.
  • LiphaTech of Wisconsin, the largest legume inoculant producer in the US, has contracted NifTAL to evaluate their products in environments that simulate those in potential export markets. NifTAL expertise and technologies assisted LiphaTech in developing and refining products that expand the company's markets beyond U.S. borders.
  • BNF Industries, a newly developed subsidiary of Hawaii-based Innovative Technology Associates, has licensed NifTAL's fermentor technology. NifTAL-developed fermentors are now manufactured by BNF Industries, and have been marketed to inoculant producers in Honduras, India, Burma, Bangladesh, and Canada.

NifTAL Products and Technologies in the International Marketplace

Since 1976 NifTAL has been a leader in the field of inoculant production processes and equipment development. Today, many of the products and techniques developed at the NifTAL Center can be found in public and private institutions worldwide, as shown below.
Products/Processes Company/Agency Location
NifTAL designed transfer chamber for aseptic work with microorganisms MIRCEN, University of Nairobi Nairobi, Kenya
Various Laboratories India
Kabarole Research Station Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
University of Los Banos Los Banos, Philippines
NifTAL Developed Fermentors (NDF) for rhizobial cell propagation (made in USA by NifTAL) Government of Thailand, Department of Agriculture Bangkok, Thailand
MIRCEN, University of Nairobi Nairobi, Kenya
West African MIRCEN Dakar, Senegal
Mt. Makulu Agricultural Research Station Lusaka, Zambia
Kabarole Research Station Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
ILCA Ethiopia
Technology Transfer: Manufacturing and marketing of NifTAL developed fermentors by a private company Innovative Technology Associates (ITA) Kihei, Maui, Hawaii, U.S.A.
NifTAL Developed Fermentor for rhizobial cell propagation (made in USA by ITA) ICRISAT Myanmar (Burma)
Biotechnologia de Honduras Ltd. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
FAO/United Nations India
NifTAL Developed Fermentor, electric sterilization option for rhizobial cell propagation (made in USA by ITA) Bangladesh Institute for Nuclear Agriculture Mymensingh, Bangladesh
Technology Transfer: Manufacturing and marketing of NifTAL Developed Fermentors by a private company Agro-Tech Ltd., Part., Bangkok, Thailand Bangkok, Thailand;
Bogor, Indonesia;
Kathmandu, Nepal;
Jakarta, Indonesia
Micro-Production Unit (MPU) for rhizobial cell propagation AgroForester Tropical Seeds, Inc. Kona, Hawaii, USA
Madhvani Group Ltd. Jinja, Uganda
Production technique: dilution of liquid Rhizobium culture Yellowstone Valley Chemical, UAP Billings, Montana, USA
Rhizogen, Ltd. Bogor, Indonesia

Bangkok Seed Company

Bangkok, Thailand
Rhizobial germplasm distributed from NifTAL/MIRCEN Approximately 470 cultures per year distributed on request Institutions in 58 countries have received strains from NifTAL
Custom legume inoculant orders, prepared with NifTAL germplasm 1400 inoculum units to 245 requests per year (based on averages 1986-1991) Research institutions, NGOs and PVOs worldwide.
Information services providing reference materials and publications. NifTAL researchers have over 140 journal publications Respond to approximately 580 requests per year for publications and other information materials Worldwide
BNF Newsletter and Continuing Bibliography series Sent to 1800 readers twice per year Approximately 100 countries
Training manuals and handbooks: “Methods in Legume-Rhizobium Technology”, “Applied BNF for Extension Specialists”, “Legume Inoculants and Their Use” Inoculants handbook available through UN/FAO in 5 languages, approximately 3000 methods manuals, 400 extension manuals sold Worldwide
Computer software – MPNES: Most Probable Number Estimation System

FAIME: Financial Analysis for Inoculant Manufacturing Enterprises

RESPONSE: Models to predict response to inoculation

ACCLAIM: Rhizobium germplasm catalog
Distributed in response to approximately 80 requests Worldwide
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