By Morris Aron
Kenya’s food security is set to improve thanks to a $19.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
The grant, given to eight Sub-Saharan countries, seeks to improve grains and legume crop production among poor households, mostly headed by women.
The project, dubbed ‘N for Africa’, will involve soil specialists from Waginengen University, a leading European life science institution, and a number of other international and local partners. It will be geared at increasing soil fertility by upping the level of nitrogen content in it.
"The aim of this project is to alleviate food insecurity by improving legume and grains food production, by increasing soil nitrogen nutrient levels," said Kenton Dashiell, the project leader.
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The project, which will run for four years, will involve using a simple technology that allows farmers to introduce bacteria which increases nitrogen nutrients in the soil.
Legume foods in Africa often fail to fix useful nitrogen nutrients in the soil because the bacteria that carries out the nitrogen fixing activity is not present in the soil. This is mostly because of land overuse, which depletes phosphorous, which is needed to catalyse the process.
Absence of the bacteria often leads to poor legume and grain crop yields, which therefore increases food insecurity, and cases of hunger and malnutrition.
"Using simple scientific technology farmers can introduce the bacteria together with the seed and small amounts of fertilizer to double yields," Dashiell said.
The project targets 225,000 households, mainly smallholder women farmers, in Ghana, DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and is expected to benefit over 1.8 million people.
The technology doubles crop yields and is targeted at crops such as beans, cowpeas, soybeans among others.
Nteranya Sanginga, director of Topical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute in Nairobi, said farmers in North America and Brazil have successfully used the technology for decades.
The grant, part of $120 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at addressing long-term food security, was announced yesterday during a World Food Prize Symposium in Iowa United States.