Back in 2008, Simon Ntubiri, a farmer in Riiji village, Katheri East in Meru County, grew arrowroots, coffee and passion fruits conventionally; using synthetic fertilisers.
For Mr Ntubiri, as for many other farmers, fertiliser application was the surest way to bumper harvest.
And he was right. But as time went by, Mr Ntubiri’s relentless investment in synthetic fertilisers bore little fruit as the farms became too acidic and crop productivity began plummeting.
Disturbed by the dwindling productivity, the farmer made a decisive move in 2012 to start applying agricultural lime, crop wastes and animal manure to neutralise the acidity and enrich the soil.
About six years ago, his work was further simplified when a local farmers’ self-help group known as Imenti Community Based Organisation (ICOBO) —which specialises in adding value to vegetables and fruits for export —began making organic fertilisers from banana and potato peels.
The farmers’ group, which buys bananas, arrowroots and sweet potatoes from local smallholder farmers in the county realised that rather than dispose of the peels from the commodities, they could process them into something useful.
Once the bananas, arrowroots, and potatoes arrive at the facility for processing, they are washed and peeled. These are then dried using solar energy inside a greenhouse made of polythene bags and wooden poles.
The products are then milled into a fine flour before being mixed with lime and other animal wastes, turning them into high quality fertiliser.
The fertilisers are then weighed and packed into 50 kilogramme bags, which cost Sh1, 250 each.
Joakim Kiambi, director ICOBO mills, says their group buys fresh farm commodities such as bananas, potatoes and arrow roots from local farmers before processing and packaging them for sale.
“We used to throw away the waste after peeling the banana and arrowroots. But a research on how to use it led us to making the product that enhances nutrients in the soil,” recalls Mr Kiambi.
On a good day, the group makes up to 15 bags of the fertiliser weighing 50 kilogrammes each. It is also packed into smaller quantities of 30 kilos for farmers who require less quantities.
According to Mr Kiambi, the organic fertiliser is applied after every six months. One acre piece of land needs about 120 kilos.
The farmer also managed to get the government’s approval and licensing to produce organic fertilisers, Mr Kiambi said.
“The product is mainly serving farmers from neighbouring counties including Tharaka Nithi, Nyandarua, Isiolo and Laikipia, but we are flexible on orders. Currently we sell to our members and supply to agrovets in different counties. Our aim is to reach mre counties in a few years,” he added.
The organisation started making organic fertilisers in 2013 but the venture began picking up in 2014 after a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-led project, Kenya Horticultural Competitiveness Project, donated solar driers and peeling machines to the group.
The machines can peel thousands of bananas and generate lots of peels.
Mr Ntubiri said organic fertiliser made from the wastes are just as effective as any other manure, and has significantly enhanced the fertility of his degraded soil.
“In the past, I used to get only 200 kilos of coffee berries but last season, I harvested 500 kilos, which I sold to Katheri Coffee Co-operative Society at Sh43 per kilo,” said Mr Nturibi who has been growing coffee for over two decades.
While farmers are always encouraged to used fertilisers, experts warn that excessive use of agricultural chemicals such as synthetic fertiliser has been blamed for rising soil acidity, among other concerns.
National soil test result released by the ministry of Agriculture in 2014 indicated that most soils across 164 sub-counties in the country were acidic and lacked the necessary nutrients needed for crop production.
The results further revealed that 67 per cent of the soils which were sampled had low micro nutrients, while 89 per cent of the soils were low in organic matter.
Following the findings, scientists at the ministry recommended the use of animal or compost manure to enhance organic matter of the soils.
Ferdinand Wafula, an organic farming extension officer at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), says farmers can restore soil fertility using organic fertiliser and compost or animal manure.
“The organic fertiliser helps in reducing soil acidity and is also high in moisture content. The organic matter helps in building soil fertility,” he said.