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Farmers embrace crop rotation to improve soil fertility

Farmers in Migori County are turning to soil management to increase their crop harvests that have been declining fast in consecutive seasons.

The farmers are embracing crop rotation techniques to maintain soil fertility in their farms as a result of the teachings and encouragement they get from agricultural experts.

Mr. Thomas Owiti, an agricultural expert who retired from the civil service recently, says years of cultivating the same crops on the same land had resulted in poor soils and low yields.

“Farmers have tilled the same crops on the same land for years with the end result being tired soils,” he says, adding that it was time that they took a paradigm shift of rotating different crops on their farms to save soil fertility and get good yields.

Rising inflation, he explains, has triggered a serious spike in the costs of fertilizer, land leasing, fuel, labour, pesticide and subsequently eroding earnings of local farmers drastically, a situation that has made it difficult for the farmers to secure food security.

Other factors that have contributed to low yields include erratic rainfall, lack of incentives and subsidies from the Government, according to Mr. Owiti

And to add to the list of the farmers’ woes, the effects of relying on a few vulnerable crops like maize for years has also dealt a severe blow to food production in the region.

Consequently, they have now turned to growing different crops like soybeans, cassava and millet on plots previously occupied by maize and sugarcane only for all seasons to earn good yields.

Farmers also admit that they do not pay keen interest in rejuvenating their soils for better yields. “Year in year out, we have ploughed the same land like our forefathers,” said a farmer, Mr. Charles Mwita, who hails from Ntimaru area of Kuria East Sub-county.

“Farmers have also used the same fertilizers and pesticides on the same land for years with the end result being tired soils.” says Mwita and citing decreasing soil quality as a major cause for decreased land productivity within the county.

Mwita, for instance, said that in 1977, an acre of land in the region would produce over 60 bags of maize. “The soils were very productive then. But the same cannot be said today as the same acre now yields below 20 bags,” he explained.

A farmer and chairman of Ulunja farmers group in West Kanyamkago location in Uriri sub-county, Mr. Pius Onyango, decried that fertilisers and pesticides had increased soil acidity, leading to low farm yields.

“We have been planting and top dressing fertilisers and herbicides for a long time. This has exerted stress on the soils,” he said.

A soil expert, Dr. Martin Njuguna, says the declining soil fertility in the region and country as a whole has been complicated by expensive soil testing services making it difficult for poor farmers to establish the status of their soils.

“Farmers for long disregarded soil status, including its composition, as a factor to consider before engaging in farming,” he told KNA during an interview with him in Migori town recently.

Dr. Njuguna said 4.5 million acres of land in Kenya is arable and is annually put under crop production. “However, this arable land is fast losing productivity due to the limiting soil acidity caused by repeated crop growing and harvesting,” he affirmed.

Other causes, he cited, are leaching or the removal of nitrate nitrogen from the soil by dissolution, build-up of soil organic matter and continued use of fertilisers containing ammonium or urea.

Mechanised farming through use of tractors to plough and plant had compressed soils, further hiding the nutrients necessary for crop productivity.

“Compressed soils have made it difficult for crop roots to go down to where crucial nutrients are found,” explained Njuguna. As a result, he added, roots spread sideways instead of downwards towards the nutrients.

“Due to the compaction, nutrients get locked up and there is lack of air and water circulation in the soil. This hampers germination,” said the expert.

He explained further: “When it rains, water does not also infiltrate the soil and that is why farmers experience flooding in their farms during rainy seasons.”

Other effects of compaction on farming include suffocation of seedlings by floodwaters, washing away of herbicides, non-evaporation of water and cracks on the ground, which prevent moisture conservation.

Dr. Njuguna said use of fertilisers to increase yields does not work because fertilisers add acidity and do not break the compacted soil.

When yields are low, farmers only break even and do not make profit, he explained, adding that it is the reason why they hoard their produce like maize anticipating increased prices.

However, hoarding does not guarantee profits as farmers are at the risk of incurring post- harvest losses. According to this expert, the ideal way to increase yields and subsequently reap profits from farming is to focus on ground preparation.

Dr. Njuguna now wants farmers to be introduced to a specialised product- Agricultural Soil Organic Condition (Agrisoc), a product that reduces compaction and crusting.

Agrisoc, a product developed by Orion East Africa, also breaks hardpan, improves soil microbial activity, enhances fertiliser efficiency and reduces soil erosion.

Research has confirmed that the product increases yields by 15 per cent. “It removes fertiliser, calcium nitrogen that have been used overtime, thus reducing soil acidity drastically,” stressed the official.

By George Agimba

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