Cereal and coffee farmers in Nakuru County are set to benefit from a new bio fertilizer best suited for high acidity soils.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the deteriorating state of soil in all the 11 sub-counties was due to continuous and wrong use of artificial fertilizers adding that there was a need to educate farmers on application of fertilizer types that match a given soil pH to fix missing nutrients in the soil and neutralize acidity.
Speaking in Nakuru when he unveiled distribution of 75,000 kilograms of bio fertilizer to farmers across the devolved unit, Kinyanjui said the problem of deteriorating soil fertility was getting worse because most farmers do not know the status of their soil since they didn’t test due to costs.
“Collecting and conducting soil tests each year serves as a report card for the soil. The test reports help in determining soil organic matter, pH, electrical conductivity and levels of important macro- (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium) and micro-nutrients (boron, zinc, among others). These reports also help to estimate lime or Sulphur application rates to increase or reduce soil pH, respectively,” advised Kinyanjui.
At the same time the Governor announced that his administration was collaborating with the National Government to provide planting and top dressing fertilizer at subsidized rates of Sh 3, 000 and Sh.1, 900 respectively.
He said they had worked out a supply model with the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to provide sub-counties with fertilizers that match their soil profile.
The Governor said his administration had rolled out a survey to determine the type of fertilizers suitable in each of the sub-counties depending on soil status.
“About two decades ago soils in Nakuru used to be all right, nonetheless, constant mining of the nutrients without replenishing has deteriorated its quality, hence the need for testing in order to fix the problem. The Bio-fertilizers improve availability of plant nutrients to the roots through association and are also free-living bio-organisms that fix nutrients in the soil,” stated the Governor.
Kinyanjui indicated that the non-chemical-based fertilizer improves yields by up to 25 per cent and offers up to 50 per cent reduction in chemical fertilizer application while conditioning the soil, improving soil structure and texture. It is also non-toxic in addition to being eco-friendly, non-hazardous and controls pathogenic organisms.
“The bio-fertilizer which has been approved by both Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) is also suitable for a variety of crops like, tea, mangoes, avocados and other horticultural crops,” said Kinyanjui.
Kinyanjui indicated that the county administration in collaboration with different partners had so far helped over 5000 farmers across the county to do free soil sampling and testing to determine the right type of cropping best suited for their type of soil.
“The partnerships are aimed at educating farmers to have the knowhow on their soil pH which enables them to be properly advised on what fertilizers to apply and the elements that are missing in order to fix them. You cannot manage what you do not understand or rather, what you do not know and therefore, for us to be able to manage the soils, we have to do soil testing,” he stated.
The Governor noted that with soil testing and the right fertilizer, farmers can witness an increase in yields by between 50 and 150 percent.
Moving forward, he added, farmers should apply tailor-made or recommended fertilizer that has been informed by soil testing and that addresses uniqueness of their soils given that the one-size-fits-all approach has greatly contributed to acidifying and deterioration of soils and with it decline in farmer yields.
Soil Scientists at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) have proposed a number of remedies, including switching from Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertilizer to Nitrogen Phosphorus Potassium (NPK) and embarking on a national liming programme to reduce acidity.
According to a report compiled by KALRO, continuous use of DAP has been blamed for pumping phosphorus into the soil while ignoring other elements such as potassium and zinc. The problem of deteriorating soil fertility has been compounded by the fact that most farmers do not know the status of their soil.
County Agriculture Chief Officer Mr. Kibet Maina stated that nutrient depletion varies with the intensity of field management, soil properties and landscape.
“Some of the negative effects of land degradation include decline in crop productivity, food insecurity, low returns on agricultural investment and environmental degradation,” he said
The Chief Officer expressed concern that traditional approaches towards soil fertility replenishment, including organic farming and low external input, have failed due to low availability of inputs by smallholders, leading to land degradation.
The county administration, he pointed out, has been promoting soil fertility replenishment strategy based on integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices which advocate the use of both organic and inorganic fertilizers for balanced nutrient fertilization.
“This calls for precise and prescriptive fertilizer recommendations at the farm level which are based on precise soil testing to ensure increased, sustainable and profitable crop production. Adoption of innovative soil testing techniques that are rapid with a high output will help increase sustainable food production and hence food security,” Maina explained
Maina observed that continuous cropping without sufficient application of nutrients and proper management of the soils, which leads to degradation, soil fertility in the country was declining at an alarming rate.
“For us to improve crop production, we need to look at the management of soils for 10 years to be able to be food secure. Managing optimum soil nutrient levels is the key to maintaining a sustainable and productive enterprise. Before a fertilization programme can be planned, it is important to know the cropping and soil fertilization history of the field,” said the Chief Officer
Maina indicated that there is no soil that cannot be cured with the modern analysis techniques and ultra-modern machines capable of giving the correct fertilizer for specific plants and regions.
“Farmers need to maintain soil health because healthy soil helps to maintain its capacity to sustain the living system and protect the climate. Where applicable they should do liming to raise soil pH and improve plant nutrients availability, soil structure and soil microbial activity. Our goal is to help farmers apply the right fertilizers for specific regions to correct the soil deficiency and enhance productivity,” said the Chief Officer
He added “Farmers should avoid the guesswork of applying fertilizers they are not aware of. Let them understand the type of soil they are planting their crops.”
By Elizabeth Simiyu and Agatha Agutu