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Quality fertiliser key to rise in food production

Saturday May 17 2014

The country aims at increasing fertiliser use from the current 10kg to 31kg per acre by  2015. FILE

The country aims at increasing fertiliser use from the current 10kg to 31kg per acre by 2015. FILE 

DOROTHY KWEYU
By DOROTHY KWEYU
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When President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto launched the Ministry of Agriculture’s recommendations on the types of fertilisers for the different zones in Kenya, it was an acknowledgement that all is not well with our soils.

Indeed, scientists at the Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology (Larmat) Department of the University of Nairobi have raised the alarm that Kenya’s soils are in the intensive care unit and need urgent remedial action.

According to Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki, the types of fertilisers used in most parts of the country are not the right ones.

Increased use of fertilisers, she said, is a key factor (in realising crop production and food security), hence the Abuja Declaration of 2006, which states: “Fertiliser is crucial for achieving an African Green Revolution in the face of a rapidly rising population and declining soil fertility.” It was in recognition of the crisis of our soils that the president and his deputy presided over the high-profile launch of the ministry’s recommendations on the types of fertilisers for the different zones earlier this year.

To increase production and ensure food security and incomes at farm level, the country aims at increasing fertiliser consumption from the current 10kg to 31kg per acre by 2015.

The government is implementing various programmes to spur growth in fertiliser use and stabilise prices, and, according to the PS, the notable ones include bulk fertiliser procurement; increased fertiliser use by resource-poor farmers; and a regional/national fertiliser manufacturing plant.

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On bulk procurement, the programme that started in 2008 has already bought over 400,000 tonnes of various types of fertiliser, which has been sold to farmers at subsidised prices. It is estimated that bulk procurement meets 30 per cent of the annual national fertiliser requirement while the rest is procured by the private sector, according to the PS.

The National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Programme (NAAIAP) was started in 2008 to increase fertiliser use by resource poor/vulnerable farmers and since 2008, $57 million (Sh4.9 billion) has been pumped into the project.

Through this programme, an input package consisting of fertiliser and seed is given to selected farmers. To date, 500,000 farmers out of a targeted 2.5 million have been assisted.

In a recent interview, Larmat’s Prof Nancy Karanja and Dr Richard Onwonga stressed the importance of replenishing soil carbon, which has seriously been depleted by conventional methods of agriculture.

Prof Karanja believes in integrated soil fertility management that recognises a mixture of artificial fertilisers and soil carbon for optimal soil fertility to increase grain production.

Perennial complaints about delayed or poor distribution of fertilisers, especially to farmers in Kenya’s Rift Valley breadbasket, confirms that farmers need to be equipped with the ability to produce and be in control of their own fertilisers.

Maize production in Kenya has been declining over the years and soil acidity has been identified as one of the major causes of declining yields.

Maize production requires an optimal soil pH of between 5.5-6.5 and currently, soil testing results so far done in many agricultural regions in the country, for example Trans Nzoia County, show the area has a pH ranging between 4.6-4.8 which is unsuitable for maize production.

Furthermore, farmers have been using DAP which is an acidifying fertiliser, leading to a buildup of acidity in the soil and consequently nutrients get locked up in the soil resulting to declining soil fertility.

By increasing the pH of the soil to an optimum level of 5.5-6.5, you can neutralise the acidity caused by nitrogenous compounds, eliminate the toxic effects of Aluminium and increase the crops uptake of essential nutrients.