Acidic soils threaten food production in North Rift
Food production is fast dropping in Kenya’s bread basket, North Rift region, following increased use of artificial fertilisers and mono-cropping, an expert has said.
Farmers’ use of the fertilisers has increased acidity of soils and Mary Kipsat, an agriculturalist and the dean of the School of Business and Economics at Moi University says unless urgent measures are put in place to correct the anomaly, the country would be staring at another food crisis.
Already some farmers in the North Rift have started experiencing the effect of the acidity due to over reliance on maize and wheat as harvests continue to dwindle.
Dr Kipsat said there is need for regular checks of the soils to determine the acidity level so that farmers can be advised to use lime, organic fertilisers or grow crop varieties that can thrive well under such conditions.
Sarah Kiplagat, a farmer from Exgallan in Moi’s Bridge, Uasin Gishu County said for the last three seasons, her maize production has been on a decline. She says she used to harvest 50 bags of maize per hectare three years ago, but can now only produce 30 bags.
The large scale farmer said over the years, she has been using the right quantities of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) during planting and Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) for top dressing, until recently when there was a shortage and delays in deliveries that are occasioned by government procurement hitches.
The farmer admits that she is not sure whether the drop in harvest is due to the changing weather patterns, irregular application of fertilisers or just that the soils are exhausted and no longer suitable for maize growing.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, a maize farmer needs one a half and two bags of 50 kg bags of DAP and CAN respectively per acre, for optimum yields.
Maize varieties commonly cultivated in the North Rift take almost a year. As a result, Ms Kiplagat doesn’t cultivate any other crop on her nine acre farm, which she has set aside for maize growing. Some farmers, however, interchange maize with wheat that is usually planted in June whereas maize is usually planted in mid-March unless when the rains have delayed thus pushing farmers to as late as April, as it happened this year.
“Use of lime remains the best option so far because it will take long before the acidity recurs as opposed to when a farmer is forced by circumstances to plant crops he didn’t have in his plan, just because the farm is acidic,” said Dr Kipsat.
She adds that organic fertilisers are equally good to tackle acidic soils but unfortunately, farmers cannot access the requisite quantities to sustain large scale agriculture. Joseph Cheboi, the Eldoret West District agriculture officer said soil acidity poses challenges to crop production.
The district has 34,500 hectares under maize this year and the officer said this harvest is likely to be less due to excessive rains during the planting period that has affected growth in some parts of the district.
The officer said the ministry is in the process of increasing the number of pH machines to help in testing the level of acidity in soil in order to advise farmers accordingly.
Another challenge posing threat to Kenya’s food security is land sub-division and shift by farmers to lucrative real-estate sector.
“The real estate is also attracting farmers especially those near major towns, who are tired of the long wait to have the government come up with interventions meant to spur agriculture, ” said Dr Kipsat.
“We already have one such machine at the district level and plans are underway to acquire more to cater for the farmers needs up to the divisional level,” said Mr Cheboi.
He attributed most of the emerging cases of acidic soils in the North Rift to mono-cropping where farmers plant maize and wheat in particular.
, over the years, without changing to other crops.
“As a ministry, we have been advising farmers on appropriate fertilisers for use as some, as a fact can also increase the acidity levels in the soil,” he said.
Mr Cheboi added that farmers should also plough back the residues from a previous harvest instead of burning it or pushing it towards the edges of their farms.
“After harvesting maize or wheat, the remnants should be left to rot in the field as they constitute the organic manure that is required for crops to thrive well,” he said.
The officer further said that besides the farm yard manure, lime was available in various retail outlets and farmers only need to test their soils regularly to understand the cause of reduced yields.