Balanced crop nutrition holds the key to achieving elusive food security

The government has underlined the urgent need to catalyse crop productivity, to lower the cost of living. [File, Standard]

Agriculture is a key driver of the national economy, contributing 33 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and employing over 40 per cent of the population, directly or indirectly. According to the recent Kenya Economic Update Report by the World Bank, the agriculture sector contracted by 1.5 per cent in the first half of 2022, with the sector contributing almost one-fifth of GDP, its poor performance slowed GDP growth by 0.3 per cent.

The main impediment to achieving sustainable food production in Kenya is attributed to lower crop productivity. This is driven by, among others, poor extension systems, low input usage, and climate change since Kenya's agriculture is mainly rainfall-dependent. Further, 80 per cent of the country is considered to be arid and semi-arid, dominated by smallholder farmers, thus less arable land for crop production expansion.

The issue of food insecurity has become a cyclic problem. Taking into consideration that 54 per cent of Kenyan household expenditure is on essential food items, households have had to increase their spending to access core staples, such as beans and maize. The government has underlined the urgent need to catalyse crop productivity, to lower the cost of living. This will not only build the resilience of farmers' incomes but also spur rural economies through job creation, and the attainment of food security.

At Yara East Africa, through our innovative solutions and knowledge, we play a key role in the effort to close the maize yield gap. Having conducted over 2,000 soil tests, the reports indicate a widespread deficiency of nutrients like Sulphur and Zinc coupled with acidic soils (which further affect nutrient availability) that then limit the crop yield potential. Soil health, therefore, is a key building block towards increasing crop productivity; hence the reason we champion the use of the right quantity and balance of nutrients and the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices to restore soil health.

By taking the balanced crop nutrition approach, our fertiliser regimes address the nutrient deficiencies in our soils and specific crop nutrient demand. The traditional maize farmer practice recommends the use of DAP, NP 23-23-0 and CAN fertilisers, which supply only two nutrients (N and P) hence delivering yields of less than one tonne per acre. Whereas multi-nutrient fertilisers like Yara MiCROP provide up to six nutrients (N, P, K, Mg, S, and Zn) in different proportions that address the soil and crop needs, increasing the maize yields by up to 1.4 tonnes per acre.

The annual maize deficit in Kenya, ranges between 10 to 12 million bags, this can be closed quickly by ramping up extension systems to address the knowledge gaps and the adoption of multi-nutrient fertilisers. Where fertiliser regimes provide all the key nutrients to address soil deficiencies and crop needs to achieve the target yield potential. Based on local research, it is indicative that focusing on improving farmer competence in crop husbandry, and proper use of quality inputs will significantly improve smallholder production levels.

The area under maize crop in Kenya, is about 2 million hectares. We need to utilise solutions that will increase maize production within this area, to avoid further destruction of forests and natural habitats. By taking a balanced nutrition approach and applying it to 30 per cent of the current maize cropped area, which will increase yields by one tonne in every acre, the additional yield output from this focus acreage shall be 16 million bags thus closing the yield gap.