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Kenyan scientists urge farmers to reclaim soil fertility

NAKURU, Kenya, (Xinhua) -- Nearly 45 percent of Kenya's revenue is drawn from agriculture sector which also provides more than 75 percent of industrial raw materials, but declining soil fertility is undermining crop yields.


A recent ministry of agriculture report on the suitability of soil for production of maize, the main staple food in the East African nation, shows majority of high potential areas are affected with soil infertility due to continuous use of acidic fertilisers inverting the pH levels.

This, the report indicates, was threatening the country's state of food security. The report recommended use of alkaline fertilisers to neutralize the acidity and regain fertility of the soils.

Farmers should also utilize the available crop residue such as wheat, rice and maize stalks to boost the soil fertility, said Julius Khaemba, a soil scientist and lecturer at Egerton University, famous for training specialists aligned to agricultural sector.

"It is a common practice for farmers to destroy crop waste in the field by burning but there is a danger to it," Khaemba told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday.

"First, they are destroying the organic matter that boosts the fertility of the soil. Secondly, crop waste holds nutrients needed for growth of crops. When you maintain the waste in the field or plough it into the soil, you are retaining the fertility of the soil," he explained.

Khaemba said maintaining crop residue in the field is an appropriate conservation agriculture practice which should be adopted by both small and large scale farmers.

"Conservation agriculture involves covering of the soil as well as minimal disturbance to the soil such that nutrients are not lost and high moisture content is maintained within the soil," he said.

Khaemba said the tendency of burning the waste should be vehemently discouraged among the farmers since the activity further contributes to global warming causing the problematic climatic changes.

"Burning the waste is releasing gases into the atmosphere which are causing trouble with climate change and essentially affect farmers. Farmers need to stop the habit," he said.

With drought being a major trouble to farmers, Khaemba said the waste serves well in holding moisture and saves crops from failing in absence of rain.

"Waste is good in boosting the soil's water holding capacity. It maintains the moisture content in the soil needed by crops for growth. The waste therefore cushions crops against withering in dry season," he said.

FAO also emphasizes on this indicating that while agriculture consumes 70 percent of blue water in Africa, conservation agriculture could help in reducing the water consumption and maintain more moisture in the soils.

Khaemba, the soil scientist said burning the waste weakens the soil structure aiding erosion of the nutrients during rains and strong winds.

He rather advised farmers to leave crop waste in the field and grow cover crops as this would improve the structure of the soil and prevent soil erosion.

"The farmers in the rural areas don't actually know whether applying the same fertilizer for over the years does actually affect soil fertility. When crops fail, they just know it was a bad season," said Peter Waweru, chief executive officer of the Sustainable Practical Program for Africa, whose activities involve sensitization of rural farmers on better farming methods.

"It is impossible for them to change their farming habits if they are not aware of what should be done and that is why it is very important that all efforts are made to ensure information on farming trickles down to the villages," he said.

He said from their activities, they have seen a significant change in productivity among the farmers who have adopted conservation agriculture.

"We have seen farmers increase their yields and overtime their income. They have now diversified and are living in better houses, better lives. All they need is information," he said.

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