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She springs dead soil back to life

Saturday April 12 2014
gold soil.JPG

Francescah Munyi at a client’s rice farm in Mwea. PHOTO | PAULINE KAIRU

By PAULINE KAIRU
By STELLAR MURUMBA

They call her daughter of the soil, which she virtually is.

Francescah Munyi is a soil expert. She repairs ‘dead’ soils, a venture that has endeared her to many farmers in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, where she is based.

Through Kenya Organic Finest Aromas (Kofar), which she runs with three others, Francescah works with small and large-scale farmers, whose soils have become acidic, thus, unproductive.

“We train them on organic solutions to farming. It is the only way to promote sustainable agriculture and food security.”

Her remedies are organic farm inputs that include fertiliser, soil conditioners, water retainers, pesticides, storage bags and folia.

Folia helps to eliminate negative effects of continuous use of herbicides and corrects sodium levels to acceptable levels; opens up soils to enable the roots to easily penetrate soil and reactivates living microorganisms. This, she terms as “reawakening the soil.

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“What we have are customised programmes for each soil, which must be tested first before any repair is done.”

The process starts with scooping the soil and taking it for testing at government laboratories. After the results, she designs a repair programme.

“For instance, for soils on which one wants to grow French beans and tomatoes, which take about three months, we use organic fertilisers with nutrients that they can pick fast. This is different from coffee or maize.”

Many farmers, she says, are not aware that their soils have a problem.

“They can see their crops are not doing well, but they will not connect it to the soil. Some even blame their neighbours.”

They then rush to inorganic farm inputs, which destroy the soils further”

“What we have discovered is that when farmers are frustrated by poor yields, they go into over-drive mode where they apply any chemical or experiment with the wrong fertilisers in a desperate efforts to salvage or increase their crop yields.”

Others use organic fertiliser like mature without first stabilising the soil type, killing organisms. Soil repair, Francescah advises, should be done after a land ceases to be productive due to heavy use of chemicals like herbicides, which some farmers turn to instead of weeding.

Currently, Francescah and her team are repairing seven farms in Embu, Nyeri, Tharaka Nithi and Kirinyaga counties.

“We have over 100 farms under our care. We charge between Sh2,500 and Sh4,500 per acre. The results are good, that is why people are seeking our services. Some of the land we have repaired is now flowering with tomatoes, grafted avocados and paw paws.”

What jolted Francescah into the soil repair business was her mother’s farm. She started repairing it by trying various remedies and settled on Rutuba organic fertiliser, which she still uses to date.

Later, she learned of a product called Reclaim from American agriculturalists.

Encouraged by the results, Francescah quit her job and with her savings of Sh50,000 and a loan of Sh80,000 from a savings group, she launched her new career.

Her three partners joined her later. Their sales hit Sh2 million during planting season, and they have employed several workers.

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