Why small-scale farmers in ASALs shun fertiliser use

A farmhand at the 5-acre cassava research farm at Lukenya University, Kambu, Makueni County. [File, Standard]

Land tenure is one of the factors that hold back small-scale farmers in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) from using fertiliser, according to a new study.

The paper published by the Kenya Institute for Public Research and Analysis (Kippra) also lists access to credit and education levels as some of the other factors that influence farming practices in the regions.

The paper published in November recommends that the government formalise land tenures in ASAL regions as one of the ways to encourage farmers to adopt the use of fertiliser.

The paper titled Leveraging on Adoption of Fertiliser to Boost Small-scale Crop Farming, concludes that simplifying the land registration process and providing legal support would enhance land security. This should be done by the Ministry of Lands, it recommends.

“By formalising land ownership, farmers will be more willing to invest in long-term agricultural technologies such fertilisers,” the paper says.

“The government will also work with local authorities and communities to resolve any land disputes and ensure fair and transparent allocation of land rights.”

The purpose of the study was to assess the impact of fertiliser technology on small-scale crop farming productivity in ASALs.

It covered all 47 counties, with the data collected between September 2015 and August 2016.

The paper states that the adoption of fertiliser in agriculture carries profound implications for crop yield, playing a pivotal role in the quest for enhanced food production and food security.

“Moreover, the implications of fertiliser adoption extend beyond immediate crop yield improvements. Increased yields can have cascading effects on food security, income generation for farmers, and rural development,” notes the study.

According to the study, the estimated average impact of fertiliser technology adoption on yield ranges from about 304 kg/ha to about 401 kg/ha, depending on the estimation techniques.

This means those who adopted fertiliser use obtained between 84kg and 132 kg more yield per hectare of farmland, yielding an average productivity reduction of about 114 kg/acre less if they had not adopted fertiliser.

“The PSM (Prosperity Score Matching) results show that farmers who adopted fertiliser in the arid counties had a significant increase in productivity and that they would have had 114 kg/acre less if they had not adopted it,” the paper states.

“The findings support the view that adoption of fertiliser plays a vital role in increasing crop productivity, which, in turn, increases the income of farm households.”

Kippra notes that these findings underscore the importance of targeted policies and interventions to promote sustainable agricultural practices and enhance farmers’ livelihoods.

“By enhancing crop production, fertiliser use can contribute to meeting the nutritional needs of local communities and reducing food shortages. Additionally, higher crop yields can generate surplus produce for sale in the market, leading to increased income for farmers and improved livelihoods,” it adds.

This, in turn, can stimulate economic growth in rural areas and reduce poverty.

The study found that for arid counties, all three matching algorithms show a positive and statistically significant after-treatment effect (ATE) of fertiliser adoption on crop yield.

“This means that adopting fertiliser increases crop yield by an average of 84-133 kilogrammes per acre in arid regions, compared to not adopting fertiliser. This is a large and meaningful effect, given that the average crop yield in arid regions is only 172 kilogrammes per acre for non-adopters,” the paper states.

However, Kippra notes that the adoption of fertiliser is not a simple decision that depends only on the availability and affordability of the input.

Other factors include farmers’ socio-economic characteristics, access to information and extension services, risk preferences and environmental conditions.

“The paper documents that the average marginal effect of land tenure is 0.035 in semi-arid 1, which means that holding other variables constant at their mean values, having secure land tenure increases the probability of adopting fertiliser by 3.5 percentage points, on average,” the study notes.

It adds: “While on semi-arid 2, the average marginal effect of land tenure is 0.034, which means that holding other variables constant at their mean values, having secure land tenure increases the probability of adopting fertiliser by 3.4 percentage points, on average.”

Kippra also wants the government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Co-operatives to focus on improving the accessibility and affordability of fertilisers, particularly in regions where access is limited.

It also recommends the government partner with private sector actors and research institutions to promote the development and dissemination of high-quality and climate-smart fertilisers that suit the local soil conditions and crop varieties.

“Subsidy programmes or cooperative initiatives can be explored to reduce the cost of fertilisers for farmers and encourage bulk purchasing,” the study notes.