The Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has been undertaking research in 5 counties to improve the capacity and efficiency of fertilizer use in soils.
Speaking during a farmer’s field day in Ainamoi, Kericho County to validate and mainstream soil diagnostics for analytical services and fertilizer use, Dr. Esther Gikonyo, soil fertility and plant nutrition scientist based at KALRO Kabete said, the soil fertility in the country has been declining because of continuous cropping without sufficient application of nutrients, without proper management of the soils leading to degradation.
“It is time for us to improve crop production in this country by looking at the management of soils in the next ten years if we have to increase production leading to food security in this country”, Dr. Gikonyo said.
The research project has been undertaken since 2020 under the Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Project (KSCAP) under 3 value chains namely Banana in Kericho and Bomet counties, Green grams, and Pigeon peas in Machakos, and Irish Potatoes in Nyandarua and Nyeri Counties.
” In all of these Counties the basic things we are looking at is how we can improve and manage the soil fertility because that is the basis of crop production and is the only way to increase production of all crops”, she said
Soil testing, she added is one of the important tools that is used in research, in policy formulation, and used for the improvement of the farmer’s field and although there are various methods of soil testing, KALRO has been using conventional methods that have been tested over a long time, are a bit laborious and not efficient.
Other technologies, she said are coming up and recently KALRO is trying out the spectral techniques and innovative equipment that have come and can be used in soil testing namely the scanner and also ‘Lab in a box.’
The two, Dr. Gikonyo said are innovations from Agro Care, a nongovernmental organization that they have been working within the project to test soil against the conventional method of soil testing known as the Wet Chem.
Dr. Gikonyo noted that the ultimate goal of the adoption of innovative soil testing could enhance land productivity, increase food quantity and quality in the most cost-effective way thereby increasing the economic returns to the farmer while conserving the environment.
The data collected, she explained, will be subjected to statistical analysis to remove any bias and once analyzed will give the highest yield and which one is the most economical method.
“After validation in the field day today we will come up with recommendations on the way forward and I am very optimistic that the results will be suitable for farmers and clients as well as testing services will now be decentralized at counties and thus increase soil testing by farmers”, she said.
Dr. Gikonyo said that the adoption of the two analytical services has the potential for improved efficiency, high output, and cost-effectiveness by at least 25 percent.
Mukami Gitau who works for AgroCares Limited and whose innovation is the portable handheld scanner that is able to test soils at the farm said within ten minutes of testing a farmer’s soil, they can be able to get the status, what nutrients it needs for a farmer to get good quality of their crop
” We use the hand-held scanner by placing it on top of the soil, the beams here reflect on the soil, and then through what we call electronic magnetic waves, It is able to pick up the nutrients from the soil, and speak to a cloud database, already based on a calibrated, soil data that we have for Kenya, and it’s able to tell you, what you need, what nutrients you need to apply in that particular field, based for instance on banana, so that you can be able to see an increased production”, she explained.
Mukami advised that the tool might not be for the farmer per see to do but a field extension officer or an agronomist can be able to walk with the tool and be able to test the farmer’s soil and also interpret the results for the farmer.
In Kericho where the field day was held, banana cultivation is practiced by 41-60 percent of the population for subsistence and commercial purposes. The area under banana cultivation is about 423 ha, valued at about Ksh 350 million, and is mainly grown in the lower altitude sub-counties of Ainamoi, Sosiot, and parts of Cheplanget and Kiptere.
KALRO’s obligation in KSCAP is to facilitate 24 counties in the country to upscale climate-resilient technologies, innovations, and management practices (TIMPS) to achieve triple-wins of increased productivity, enhanced resilience, and reduced greenhouse emissions.