Study shows acidic soils affecting food production countrywide

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his deputy William Ruto (second left) during the launch of the soil testing results and subsidised fertilisers at Egerton University, Njoro, Tuesday. [PHOTO: BONFACE THUKU/STANDARD]

By Steve Mkawale

Kenya: Results from soil testing in 164 sub-counties show that most soils are deprived of necessary nutrients needed in crop production.

The study found that the most limiting nutrients in the production of maize in all the districts were those required in large amounts namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

The results further revealed that of the soils sampled, 67 per cent were low in the micro-nutrient zinc and 89 per cent in organic matter. Forty-three per cent had pHs outside the optimum maize growing range of 5.0- 8.0, making them unsuitable for maize production.

Following the findings, scientists have made a raft of recommendations. Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki said farmers should apply manure or compost regularly as per recommendations in order to maintain and sustain the organic matter content.

“Farmers should also use non-acidifying fertilisers in acidic soils to maintain the optimum pH range and also use acidifying fertilisers in alkaline soils,” said Ms Kariuki.

The report further advises farmers to do liming where applicable to raise soil pH and improve plant nutrients availability, soil structure and soil microbial activity.

Farmers are also advised to have their soils tested regularly to determine the fertility levels; preferably every three years. The report also recommends that regular soil testing would enable farmers to get the correct combination of fertilisers as well as other soil management practices.

The report, however, noted that smallholder farmers have limited access to farm inputs and services. It also confirmed that inputs and other support services were expensive for smallholder farmers.

Kariuki said the Government would continue to distribute subsidised fertilisers to enable farmers access the input and make make it available according to the analysis results.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei attributed the decline in crop production over the past two decades to the low use of fertilisers around the country.

Mr Koskei said although the general use of fertilisers has increased significantly over the last 20 years, the average use is still below 10kg per acre against the recommended rate of 75kg per acre.

“With such low fertiliser use, the nutrient balance in most production systems is negative. This results in depletion of soil nutrients, which is the main cause of declined food and cash crop production,” he said.

Koskei said his ministry, through the National Accelerated Agriculture Input Access Programme (Naalap), and other complementary programmes, will address the challenges of low input use, food insecurity and overall poverty experienced in the country’s rural population.

He was speaking during the release of the soil testing results and the flagging off tons of subsidised fertilisers to farmers at Egerton University, Njoro.