With the production of my farm increasing, I am now earning more money and able to cater toMatthew Mbeka, FtMA Farmer, Kisumu County
all my financial obligations. My family and I are comfortable as I am able to meet all their needs,
The first step towards a healthy harvest is knowing the pH and the nutrients in a farms’ soil through soil testing. Approximately 70 percent of crop yield is dependent on the soil’s composition. Soil, just like an illness, will show symptoms that are oftentimes visible to the naked eye. The soil colour, texture and structure are often easy to identify, but the chemical composition of the soil will require a‘ diagnosis’ through a soil test. The test will inform the pH and identify the nutrients that are deficient and/or sufficient for the soil needs to achieve the correct balance. This in-turn guides the farmer on the fertilizer, and other relevant inputs, required and the quantity to achieve the best yield.
Many farmers are not accessing the benefits of soil testing because of existing barriers such as: a lack of adequate and accessible information close to farmers as well as broad apprehension from farmers based on the perceived costs(and perceived lack of immediate, material benefit) of soil testing. Through outreach and engagement efforts, farmers have had the opportunity to see the benefits of soil testing, thus they have increased this practice in their own farms, and are already reaping the benefits.
Farmer and Farmer Service Centre (FSC)Testimonials
MATTHEW OCHIENG MBEKA, RICE FARMER | MBEILOCATION, KISUMU COUNTY
Matthew had little knowledge of the impact that soil testing could have on his ability to increase his rice harvests until he engaged his local FSC and asked about performing the first soil test at his farm.
“I began farming in 1970 with my father, and I do not recall seeing him or other farmers test their soil or add inputs such as fertilizer, yet the rice ears grew tall and healthy. When fertilizer was available they would leave it to rot, and the harvest would still be good. Fifteen years later, I decided to start my own rice farm and noticed the harvest began reducing from the 30 bags of 90kgs as my father used to harvest during his time, gradually to 27, 26 to 25bags of 90kgs per acre. There are times farmers would harvest as little as 15 bags of 90kgs,” says Matthew.
FtMA Agribusiness Coordinators, along with our partner Yara visited rice farmers in Muhoroni Sub-County to train farmers on good agronomic practices (GAP) in rice farming. Matthew attended the training with full expectation of increasing his yield after following what he had learnt. His yield was still low and he sought to understand why. He asked the FSC close to him, why he couldn’t achieve a harvest of 30, 90kg bags of rice per acre, even after following all the necessary steps as taught in the GAP training he attended. He asked Matthew, “have you had your soil tested?”
“I had previously commissioned someone to test my soil but we decided to test the soil again, in case there was an error during my original testing. The sampling was quick and simple – in less than a few minutes, he was able to offer a diagnosis of the issue and what treatment I could apply.
It worked! My next harvest from this particular farm almost doubled what I harvested before,” adds Matthew.
“With the production of my farm increasing, I am now earning more money and able to cater to all my financial obligations. My family and I are comfortable as I am able to meet all their needs,” Matthew gleefully adds.
ROSE WANGARE NDUNGU, AGRONOMIST AND FARMER SERVICECENTER | NYANDARUA COUNTY
“Most Farmers are not aware that soil testing is the first step towards increased production, followed by application of fertilizer,” says Rose Ndungu, an FtMA FSC from Nyandarua County.
“Soil analysis helps inform the farmer of the minerals that are deficient and those that are in excess in their soils, in order to advise on what fertilizer will be required if any, what quantity and when to use it, to optimize yields.
I work with groups of farmers and seek to impact on them the benefits of soil testing, because I want to see them enjoy farming, increase their yields and improve their livelihoods. After I train them on the importance of analyzing their soil, I pick samples from the farms of those that are convinced and analyze the soil in real time. After taking them through the results, I advise them based on their soil composition and the crop they intend to cultivate. They get to understand the soil’s pH, the nutrients that are available in the soils and the ones they need.
In regard to the crop they are growing, the test be comes specific to that type of crop. If a farmer has half an acre and they intend to plant cabbage on half an acre and potatoes on the other half, I recommend on the type of fertilizer to use, the quantity and when it should be used on the different crops. Working with FtMA has enabled me to meet more farmers, and I have tested over 1000 samples since January 2020, and the number is rising as more farmers see the benefit of testing their soil to realize more yields,” Rose Ndungu, FSC Nyandarua County.
DAVID NGANGA KAMAU, POTATO FARMER | OL-JOROROKCONSTITUENCY, NYANDARUA COUNTY
David Nganga Kamau is looking forward to harvesting the 10 to 12 tons of potatoes, the new capacity of his farm that he is now aware of after having his soil tested.
In Nyandarua, no one has ever harvested more than 8 tons of potatoes. Soil testing has been an eye opener to farmers from Nyandarua, because potato farming was gradually declining. Farmers believed that using fertilizer is the answer to improved yields, and we would use a lot of it on our farms believing that this is what will improve our soils. I had my soil tested in June 2020 for the first time and was told that my farm did not need fertilizer, I only required top dressing after planting. I had already planned to buy four bags of fertilizer not knowing that it was not needed. I know many farmers in my area had also planned to buy bags of fertilizer in readiness for planting, yet they had not tested their soil to find out what fertilizer they needed if at all their farms needed any,” says David.
He says, though his one acre has the capacity to produce 12tons, he is hoping to reach harvests of 16 tons, given all factors are constant. With soil testing, the notion that there is a season for potato farming will be something of the past, and Nyandarua will grow to become a food basket in Kenya.
PETER KARIALONG, POTATO FARMER | CHEPTULON SUB-LOCATION, ELGEYO MARAKWET COUNTY
Peter Karialong is looking forward to maximizing the benefits of testing and increasing his profit margins after his potato crop yield increased after soil testing. Peter says he has seen a significant difference in production before and after testing his soil. “After our soils were tested, the results concluded that they were very acidic. I was advised to use phosphorous intervention to balance the soil on my farm, and I have seen my yield increasing. I am now expecting to harvest 250 to 30090kg bags, which I will sell at a cost of KES 2,200 (USD 22) per bag. The way things are going, we shall be very well off in the next few months,” he excitedly adds.
The value of soil testing is experienced far beyond the farmer level. When productivity is curtailed because of inadequate soil management and treatment, production capability is limited and this in turn has negative impacts for the country’s food security.
A valuable lesson to be taken from our network of farmers, is that soil testing is essential, and providing holistic information about GAP training and testing, is key to increasing smallholder farmers’ resilience.