New strategy on soil mapping to help curb food insecurity in Kenya

Mr Oyoo Awuondo, a farmer at a maize farm in Bondo. The area has been experiencing drought for over one month now. The Government has embarked on a drive to map Kenyan soils to establish their nutrient deficiency in a bid to improve agricultural production. (PHOTO: TITUS MUNALA/ STANDARD)

The Government has embarked on a drive to map Kenyan soils to establish their nutrient deficiency in a bid to improve agricultural production.

Over the years, the country’s soils have lost ability to supply macro and micro nutrient elements in the amounts, forms, and proportions required for optimum crop growth.

Given that agriculture is considered the backbone of the country’s economy since it contributes about 25 per cent of the gross domestic product, the State is determined to improve soil fertility.

Mapping soils will help agricultural extension officers advise both the farmer and the State appropriately on regions that require fertiliser to improve soil nutrients and boost yields.

With ongoing drought in some parts of the country, the Ministry of Agriculture is keen to ensure that soil erosion becomes history and soil fertility is bolstered.

According to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett, there is need to transform agriculture into a modern, innovative and commercially-oriented sector as envisioned in the Vision 2030 goals.

“It is imperative that land productivity is improved and sustained through proper management of soils and this is why we have come up with a soil management policy,” he said.

In a statement to various county executives, the CS disclosed that the agricultural sector contributes 75 per cent of industrial raw material and accounts for 60 per cent of export earnings.

Over the years research has shown that Kenyan farmers barely got 25 per cent of their potential yields due to poor soil nutrients.

This was attributed to low or little use of organic and inorganic fertilisers, which was still less than 10 kilogrammes per hectare as compared to the recommended 75 kilogramme.

“Soil is the largest store of terrestrial carbon and its preservation may contribute to climate change and adaptation and mitigations,” said Agriculture PS Richard Lesiyampe.

Mr Lesiyampe asked agriculture extension officers to help farmers identify the appropriate fertilisers to use in their farms in order to boost productivity.

Revolutionise farming

Soil experts have welcomed the government’s new soil management policy, saying it will revolutionise conventional ways of farming.

Paul Omollo, a soil scientist at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), said soil mapping involves locating and identifying different levels of soil acidity and its potential use and recording this information on maps.

“This will help in supporting documents to show spatial distribution of every soil type. It will also help value the soil in respect to water seepage, acidity, alkalinity or fertility,” Mr Omollo said.

The experts said that it is necessary to have a system of soil classification in order to map and identify different types of soil. “Just as is the case with plants where the linnean system is used, an equivalent approach is needed for soils,” he said.

Soil classification has provided a major challenge - one that has yet to be adequately solved. At present, there is no universally used system.

“With the new policy, we will be able to determine which crops to grow where, when and how,” he said.

Mapping will also help identify suitability for irrigation, erosion risk and any environmental threats.

“We will be able to perform land valuation and determine cost of land and allocate resources appropriately. For instance, a rocky land cannot attract the same cost as low lands,” he said.

Mr Domnic Apiyo, a farmer, lauded efforts put by the State to ensure farmers get better yields.

He said mapping soils would help improve yields as demonstrated in countries such as Ethiopia, where the approach has bolstered yields.

Another farmer, Adero Omonge said the State was good in coming up with policies although the plans sometimes they ended up in the dustbin. “We are happy with this initiative; we want the government to put into practice policies it formulates as opposed to merely developing them,”he said.

Agricultural extension officers from the region said they would traverse the sugar belt to enforce the policy that farmers will not be allowed to use their entire land in planting sugarcane but will be encouraged to plant crops such as maize, which takes only three months to grow.

This way, they will be insulated from hunger.

“We want each farmer to spare 30 per cent of their land to till cereals to ensure food security,” they said. Article 43(C) of the country’s Constitution says each Kenyan has the right to have adequate food and of acceptable quality.

The new policy will address gaps hitherto existing in the earlier crop policies to ensure sustainable land use, technology development and mechanised agriculture for better yields.

Part of the policy, that is now being introduced to farmers includes national food and nutrition security, national land reclamation policy, national environment policy, 2013, national irrigation policy 2015 and national forest policy, 2013.