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Gov’t prioritizing sustainable farming practices, PS Harsama says

The Government has prioritized sustainable farming practices in its policies and budget to ensure food and nutrition security and build resilience against shocks.

Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, State Department of Crop Development Kello Harsama said various State agencies in collaboration with partners from county governments, local and international firms, and research institutions were building the capacity of both small-holder and large-scale farmers in practicing sustainable agriculture in Kenya towards improving crop yields, stimulating the economy and helping mitigate climate change.

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Harsama noted that agriculture is hugely vulnerable to climate change, particularly in Kenya, where farmers bear the brunt of irregular, insufficient, and unpredictable rainfall patterns.

He indicated that Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) was the solution to erratic weather patterns adding that it involves actions that sustainably increase productivity, enhance adaptation, reduces greenhouse emissions to a possible zero, and enhance the achievement of national food security and development goals.

In a speech read on his behalf in Nakuru by Assistant National Coordinator attached to Crop Protection and Food Safety Directorate Rose Kamau during the unveiling of Panoramix-GR bio fertilizer manufactured by Koppert Kenya, the Principal Secretary noted that bio-fertilizers improve the availability of plant nutrients to the roots through association and are also free-living bio-organisms that fix nutrients in the soil.

He stated that various studies had shown that non-chemical-based fertilizer improves yields by up to 25 percent and offers up to 50 percent 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.

Harsama said the deteriorating state of soil in all 47 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.

The Principal Secretary indicated that 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,” he advised.

Moving forward, he added, farmers should apply tailor-made or recommended fertilizer that has been informed by soil testing and that addresses the 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.

On climate change, the PS observed that erratic patterns of temperature and precipitation levels have created extreme weather conditions such as flash flooding, drought and locust invasions that have not only slashed crop yields but fuelled regional conflict over diminishing access to essential resources.

He disclosed that the State was entering into public-private partnerships aimed at building resilience in smallholder farming and pastoral communities that depend on rain-fed agriculture through scaling up climate-smart agricultural practices, strengthening climate-smart agricultural research and seed systems, and supporting agro-meteorology and advisory services.

“Sustainable agriculture is about increasing profitable farm income, protecting the environment, enhancing quality of life for farming communities and increasing production for human food and fibre needs,” he stated.

Harsama listed some of the climate-smart agriculture practices as use of bio fertilizers a, development and use of drought and heat tolerant crop varieties, finding use for waste products from crops, training on the costs and benefits of crop insurance, reduction of post-harvest losses through support of agricultural machinery, adoption of biological pesticides by farmers, conservation of agriculture practices such as zero tillage, and mulching, adoption of a warehouse receipting system and making use of waste material for biogas.

In her remarks Ms Kamau indicated that the 2022-2026 Climate Smart Agriculture Multi-Stakeholder Platform strategic plan (CSA-MSP) being spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture, aims to equip farmers with adaptation practices on climate action, geared to increase food production hence, reducing the food prices.

She said that hundreds of farmers’ groups in Arid and Semi-arid regions had been trained on climate-smart agriculture and provided with material support such as certified drought-resistant seeds, farm implements and animal supplements for increased productivity.

The communities were also being trained on how to cope with climatic disasters in regard to natural resources and risk management in order to be self-reliant.

As one way of coping with climate change, Ms Kamau urged Kenyans to adopt urban farming through establishment of kitchen gardens, while diversifying from maize into coffee, passion fruit, pyrethrum, macadamia, avocado, potato and vegetable farming.

She observed that the development of inorganic fertilizers was aligned with climate-smart innovations and technologies geared towards cushioning farmers against climate change challenges like drought, floods, pests and diseases.

Koppert Kenya General Manager Charles Macharia said growing urban populations in Africa drive up the demand for food and this could be achieved if smallholder farmers embrace climate-smart agriculture practices which will cushion them against climate change challenges like drought, floods, pests and diseases.

“It is projected that by 2030 the world’s population will surpass the 9 billion mark. While farm land size is continually shrinking due to population pressure, we must continually innovate to increase food production to feed the growing population,” stated Macharia.

The General Manager explained that sustainable agriculture was about increasing profitable farm income, protecting the environment, and enhancing quality of life for farming communities and increasing production for human food and fiber needs.

He said that Koppert Kenya would continue promoting climate-smart innovations, which enable smallholder farmers to cope with climate change, increase yields, and incomes, and provide a path out of poverty.

Soil scientist Dr Venkatesh Devanur said high soil acidity and nutrient depletion was threatening Africa’s food security.

Dr  Devanur observed that the acidity levels in most farms in East Africa were way higher than the recommended level mainly due to continuous use of inorganic fertilizer, in particular Diammonium Phosphate (DAP).

He observed that challenges of declining soil fertility and increasing acidity had been compounded by farmers’ failure to test for the status of their soils.

“The costs of testing soil samples are very high and many small holder farmers opt to ignore them. Soil testing helps in determining the pH and also knowing the elements that are missing to fix them.”

He observed that biofertilizers improve the soil texture and yield of plants, adding that besides not allowing pathogens to flourish, they are eco-friendly and cost-effective.

Deputy Governor David Kones stated that nutrient depletion varies with the intensity of field management, soil properties and landscape.

“Some of the negative effects of land degradation include a decline in crop productivity, food insecurity, low returns on agricultural investment and environmental degradation,” he said

Kones expressed concern that traditional approaches towards soil fertility replenishment, including organic farming and low external input, have failed due to the 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,” Kones explained.

The Deputy Governor 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.


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