Maren Ogola is a disappointed maize farmer in West Kanyada location, Homa Bay County. She planted maize on her half an acre farm between September last year and January this year and the harvest is nothing but impressive.
Ms Ogola expected to harvest at least 14 bags of 50kg, but only got five bags. This occurred despite the fact that she undertook agricultural maintenance practices on her farm.
The practices include planting certified seeds and applying fertiliser that she bought from a local agrovet. She was also keen on weeding.
There rains were also adequate since she planted her crop early at the onset of the season.
But despite doing all that, the yields were low.
“I undertook all the crop maintenance practices but it is very sad that I harvested only five bags. This means that I will record losses given that I spent a lot of money on production costs,” Ogola says.
According to her, her farm used to yield well four years ago but the harvest has kept declining over the years.
“I don’t know what is wrong with my farm. I did my best but the yield has disappointed me,” Ogola says.
Like Ogola, there are many farmers who have everything right, but still, they get low yields.
So what could be the problem?
Experts at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) that have done extensive research on this trend, attribute such a problem to failure to undertake soil testing.
Dr Esther Gikonyo, a soil fertility and plant nutrition scientist at KALRO Kabete said soil testing makes farmers achieve high yield in crop production.
Speaking at KALRO Food Crops Research centre in Kabete during an exhibition organised by KALRO in partnership with Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture, Dr Kakonyo said soil testing enables identification of mineral deficiencies in a farmland. Testing soil involves measuring the pH which is the degree of acidity or alkalinity of soil.
Other elements tested include the amount of organic matter and available nutrients, the soil structure and microbiology which refer to the amount of micro-organisms in the soil and their functions.
According to Dr Gikonyo soil acidity is a serious problem facing crop production in the country.
She revealed that 63 per cent of soil in high and medium rainfall areas in Kenya are affected by acidity. The acidity greatly jeopardises fertility of soil which adversely affects crop production.
Dr Gikonyo said soil in such areas have pH below 5.5 and are considered acidic.
“The serious problem affecting crop production in high and medium rainfall areas in Kenya is acidity. The acidity causes infertility in farms,” Dr Gikonyo said.
She said the acidity must be dealt with properly in order to boost food production.
The best way to deal with acidity is undertaking soil test so that a farmer is advised on an appropriate amount of lime to use to fix the issue.
“Time has come when farmers must embrace soil testing. The soil test helps to identify the level of acidity in the soil so that farmers advised accordingly on how to apply lime,” Dr Gikonyo said.
Apart from testing acidity of soil, Dr Gikonyo, said soil testing also helps to identify deficient essential soil nutrients needed by crops to yield well.
After the test is done, a farmer is advised on the type of fertiliser to apply to reclaim the soil fertility. She encouraged farmers to take soil from their farms for testing laboratories to enable them acquire good yields.
“Soil testing is like diagnosis done to human beings in hospitals. There are 16 essential soil nutrients which crops require. The test will enable discovery of the missing nutrient and the farmer will be advised on the type of fertiliser to apply for restoration of the soil fertility,” Gokonyo said.
It has also emerged that some inorganic fertilisers are not made of the required components hence they need to be tested. Dr Gikonyo warned that the fertilisers should be tested to prove availability of the ingredients indicated on their packets.
“As researchers, we have discovered that some fertilisers do not contain the ingredients indicated on the packets. I urge county government and national government officials to intervene by cushioning farmers from those who manufacture unsuitable fertilisers,” she said.