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Government to enhance food security through liming acidic soils

The government is pushing to implement the national acidic soil liming strategy as it seeks to increase food production in areas affected by soil acidity.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary (CS), Mithika Linturi, said that currently 13 percent, or about 7.5 million hectares, of Kenya’s soils are acidic, translating to 63 percent of Kenya’s arable land.

Linturi, in a speech read on his behalf by the Ministry’s Director of Agribusiness, Gilbert Muthee, Wednesday, during the launch of the Soil Acidity and Liming Handbook for Kenya, said that most crop nutrients become unavailable in highly acidic soils, resulting in low productivity.

CS explained that under the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) 2019–2029 flagship number two, liming is part of the nationwide subsidy programme, and using lime to neutralise soil acidity, together with other inputs that match soil needs such as phosphate fertiliser, would lead to increased yields of up to 77 percent in these areas over five years.

“Soil acidity is concentrated in the Central, Western and Rift Valley regions, which are the main food baskets for the country. It is also found in some parts of Eastern and Coastal regions,” said Linturi.

The CS said that soil acidity has adverse impacts that threaten Kenya’s food security and limit agribusiness potential. This also affects other related industries that rely on agriculture for inputs.

“Soil testing and data interpretation are integral parts of soil acidity management. Soil testing provides information on the acidity status of soil, which can be used to take corrective measures through lime application recommendations,” said Linturi.

Linturi said that liming agricultural soils with the use of agricultural lime is the most common and effective strategy for improving crop production.

The handbook indicates that evidence from various studies reveals that proper liming increases crop yields by up to 500 percent.

A bag of agricultural lime goes for Sh300, with one acre requiring 20 bags, thus costing the farmer Sh6,000 per acre, with the application enough for a period of five years.

“As of 2023, the adoption of liming by farmers was very low, ranging between one and eight percent,” said the CS, adding that the push for adoption of liming by farmers aligns with the government’s Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA), which has prioritised agriculture as one of the key pillars of the economic recovery plan.

He explained that under the BETA agricultural pillar, the government has designed strategies to reduce the cost of production through availability of affordable inputs, provision of mechanisation equipment, capacity building on agronomic practises, and dissemination of technologies.

“Soil acidity emerges as an obstacle affecting a substantial portion of Kenya’s arable land and jeopardises food security and income stability for many,” explained the CS.

He continued… “By reducing soil acidity through liming, we are able to improve productivity and reduce input costs, which contribute positively to the three agricultural pillars of food security, reduced imports and growth in exports.”

“The Ministry, research institutions, the private sector and development partners in the year 2021 sought to produce the Kenya Acidity and Liming Handbook as reference material, which will be instrumental in offering technical advice to farmers,” said Linturi.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger said that a major constraint in food production in Kenya is the low and declining soil fertility caused by continuous cultivation without adequate nutrient replenishment.

In a speech read on his behalf by KALRO Deputy Director-In-Charge of General Crops, Dr. Phelister Makini, Kireger said that their research work shows that in acidic soils like Uasin Gishu, some fertilisers effectiveness is reduced by up to 30 percent and as such, some farmers lose hope in their farming businesses.

“The solution we require for these farmers is a well-coordinated, systematic approach, right from soil testing to proper recommendations for the right inputs in terms of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and generally good agronomic practises and access to markets,” said Kireger.

By Joseph Ng’ang’a

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