Friday, August 19, 2011

Organic fertiliser changing fortunes of maize farmers

Mr Kipchumba Koech (right), a farmer in Namgoi in Nandi Central District, shows Mr Samwel Rono, MD of the company that manufactures organic fertiliser, his healthy maize crop. Photo/JACOB NG’ETICH

Mr Kipchumba Koech (right), a farmer in Namgoi in Nandi Central District, shows Mr Samwel Rono, MD of the company that manufactures organic fertiliser, his healthy maize crop. Photo/JACOB NG’ETICH 

By JACOB NG'ETICH jngetich@ke.nationmedia.com

Mr Simon Mosbei is one very happy maize farmer in Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County.

He is expecting a bumper maize harvest from his five acres of land in the next two months.

To add to his contentment, his farm soil is gradually healing from years of using chemical fertiliser.

Last year, Mr Mosbei reluctantly planted maize on his farm without using Diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser for the simple reason that he could not afford its high price.

He opted for a little-known option in that part of the country. Two weeks after planting the maize, he sprayed with an organic fertiliser called Auto Booster.

His neighbour had recommended the product, and Mr Mosbei was desperate enough to try it out, though he doubted its efficacy.

“I did not expect much from the farm because I am used to the conventional chemical fertiliser. But I was pleasantly surprised last year as I harvested a better yield than the year before,” said Mr Mosbei.

Soil turned acidic

Mr Mosbei’s neighbour, Mr Paul Karanja, a wheat farmer, also could not raise money to buy the usual chemical fertiliser.

Over the years, his farm had been demanding more and more fertiliser as the soil turned acidic.

Mr Karanja decided to test liquid organic fertiliser on two acres of his five-acre piece of land last year.

“I sprayed the farm with the organic fertiliser. The result was so amazing that this year, I decided to use the organic fertiliser on the entire farm,” said Mr Karanja.

He now rests easy as the organic fertiliser even gives his crop immunity from rust and fusarium wilt.

“All I have done is to apply 20 litres of the Auto Booster organic fertiliser on my five acres at a price of Sh300 per litre. I find it very cost effective compared to conventional fertiliser and fungicides,” said Mr Karanja.

Sammy Kosgei, a tea farmer in Kaiboi, Nandi North, is also a happy user of the organic fertiliser.

His tea suffered hail stone damage and when he applied the Auto Booster, “the crop responded very vigorously and we were back to plucking the following week,” he says.

“I have been applying it instead of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) and I harvest an average of 1,100kg of green leaf every month from my farm. This is a marked improvement from the 600kg before,” said Mr Kosgei.

Farmers in the North Rift have been slowly adopting organic fertiliser to improve their yield following the loss of fertility on their farms due to prolonged use of chemical fertiliser.

Mr Samwel Rono is the managing director of Ngariet Limited, the local manufacturers of the organic fertiliser. He says the fertiliser is derived from plant extracts.

Mr Rono says the organic fertiliser increases drought resistance in crops and trees, reduces the plants’ susceptibility to disease and increases carbon and nitrogen cycling.

The fertiliser is applied in liquid form and Mr Rono says it balances minerals in the plant.

He says research indicates that applying liquid folia feeds is eight to nine times more efficient than applying solids.

“When you apply it, the effect can be seen in 20 minutes. A plant will at first appear to be withering, but later becomes strong and robust,” said Mr Rono.

Mr Mosbei said the organic fertiliser activates and speeds up the growth of maize.

“Immediately I sprayed it, the maize sprouted fast, it grew much faster than the normal six months that it normally requires,” he said.

“One thing that makes the organic fertiliser appealing is that it makes the maize grow fast, and I also do not  need to apply other chemicals against maize streak disease,” said Mr Mosbei.

Mr Rono says the fertiliser shortens the crop maturity period by up to three weeks to a month.

Mr Kosgei says the organic fertiliser had made his crop resistant to plight and frost, which is a big problem to farmers in the region.

“In the past I have had to spray my tomato plants regularly to ward off any plight attacks. But with this fertiliser, you really cut costs on the farming,” said Mr Kosgei.

Mr Mark Maritim, one of the scientists involved in the production of the organic fertiliser, said it helps in boosting disease resistance in plants, and it, therefore, is not only good for the farmers who receive proper rainfall but also works well for the farmers in areas with low rainfall.

“The organic fertiliser can also help plants growing in water-logged areas since its gives strength to leaves and the plants, it helps it withstand the harsh conditions,” said Mr Maritim.

He said the fertiliser has preventative and curative properties against fungal, parasitic and bacterial diseases.

“Mushrooms are part of the components in the fertiliser and they help fight the fungi and bacteria,” said Mr Maritim.

Mr Rono said the organic fertiliser technology is widely used in Israel and Japan, where they have achieved tremendous advancement, and it is the future for Kenya.

Several times bigger

“I visited Israel sometimes back and I realised that the country had moved away from chemical to organic fertiliser and the yield was several times bigger than what farmers got in Kenya,” said Mr Rono.

The liquid organic fertiliser, according to Mr Rono, offers nutrients directly to plants.

“The fertiliser is already in liquid form, the plants take it directly, unlike the solid chemical fertiliser where the plant goes through a long process to turn it into food,” he explained.

The organic fertiliser is sprayed onto maize two weeks after planting, and a month later.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services through Kenya Agriculture Research Institute have tested the fertiliser’s components and given an analytical report.

Mr Mosbei said the use of organic fertiliser, apart from rejuvenating soil quality, saves farmers about 70 percent of the cost of production.

“Whereas it takes a  farmer in the North Rift 100kg of DAP and 50kg of top dressing to plant an acre of maize, all they require is only eight litres at Sh300 per litre for the same acre,” said Mr Mosbei.

“The organic fertiliser enriches the soil with minerals and maintains an ample PH level for the minerals required by plants for optimum yield,” added Mr Rono.

Mr Maritim organic fertiliser was eco-friendly as it lacked chlorinated hydrocarbon components.

“Once it has been applied to the plant, it fully disintegrates into useful compounds required by the plants and leaves no chlorinated residue in the soil, unlike the chemical fertiliser,” said Mr Maritim.

He said chemical fertiliser lowers the soil’s PH level, turning it acidic and affecting plants’ growth.

The adoption of organic fertiliser might help the country move from its reliance on expensive chemical fertiliser that is always in short supply, according to Dr Ephraim Mukisira, a director of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

“Other countries have adopted the use of organic fertiliser and have had successful stories, we are also researching continuously on the organic fertiliser,” said Dr Mukisira.

Healing to the soil

Agriculture Secretary Dr Wilson Songa said the soil in North Rift and other parts of the country has been wearing out over the years and therefore requires ever increasing amounts of chemical fertiliser for farmers to get proper yields.

“The reliance on chemical fertilisers has over the years made the soil acidic and less fertile. The use of organic fertiliser offers healing to the soil and improves its fertility gradually,” said Dr Songa. 

Early this year, grain farmers in the country delayed planting because of the lack of chemical fertiliser, whose cost went up because of the high demand.

However the government in June imported 33,000 tonnes of fertiliser worth Sh1.1 billion as apart of its subsidy to farmers.

While the country is still grappling with the production of organic fertiliser, Tanzania has already started mining its organic fertiliser at Minjingo near Lake Manyara, as it positions itself for the ready market within the recently launched East African Common Market Protocol.

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