What if each of the eight million parcels of land in the country had crops? Experts believe this could hold the answer to the country’s perennial food shortage as one commercial farmer recently discovered.
Sometime in March this year, Valentine Miheso visited Isinya, in Kajiado to look for ways to make his 7-acre parcel in Kiserian more productive.
And as he was being shown around part of the 60-acre farm operated by Latia Agribusiness Solutions, he came across a newconcept which revolutionalised his way of farming.
“I learnt of the square foot farming, a concept I had never heard of before. I thought this was quite unique and took interest and in three hours I had learnt a lot. Six months later, I am a happy man.”
After his visit, Miheso says he put into practice what he learnt.
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Construct a bed
“I bought five iron sheets which I cut horizontally and some off cuts which I used to construct a bed about one metre wide. Next I bought two pickup trucks of manure and mixed it with soil. I spent less than Sh12,000 for the whole project; I did the work myself and did not involve a fundi.”
He says now he has a 16-metre bed on which he has planted a variety of crops. Previously, Miheso told Smart Harvest that he was cultivating a quarter acre piece of land in Karen in a bid to produce crops for the seven members of his family.
“Despite all my efforts, I would still spend about Sh8,000 per week on groceries. All this is now over as I am saving money. By using the square feet method, I am producing all the food I need from a small piece of land and saving about Sh32,000 per month on groceries.”
On his 16-metre bed, Miheso says he has planted tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot for domestic use.
Inspired by the success of the square-foot farming, the farmer says that he is now dedicating a whole acre of land where he is going to employ the new approach.
When we visited Latia Agribusiness Solutions, which is situated three kilometres from Isinya town along the Pipeline Road, we found Ann Waceke Macharia busy at the her square foot beds which she uses for training farmers.
Waceke explains that she is the one who had trained Miheso on square foot farming.
The concept, Waceke adds, was initiated in Latia in July last year and is ideally for urban residents who have limited space for establishing a kitchen garden.
Smart kitchen garden
Once the bed is ready, it is divided into square foot establishing small units which are marked with strings and pegs, where crops are planted according to the recommended spacing requirements.
Using cabbage as an example, Waceke explains that it possible to plant one seedling per square foot, meaning in one square metre, a farmer will have 16 cabbages.
According to her calculations, the cost of producing one cabbage for three months is between Sh 7 and Sh10. This means that in a square metre, a farmer can realise Sh360, making a profit of Sh200, if one cabbage is sold at Sh35.
The advantage of square foot farming, she adds, is that it is not labour-intensive and does not require a lot of water as one can use mulching to control weeds and the amount of water lost through evaporation.
If the kales are planted in a square metre, Waceke says a farmer will reap 20 kilos which if sold at Sh20 will yield Sh400.
Drip irrigation can be used to water the crops but Waceke warns that a farmer must watch out because the beds which are lined with polythene bag at the bottom to prevent water loss and growth of weeds may get water-logged.
To prevent this, a farmer can use sprinkler to ensure that the water is evenly distributed instead of trickling in one place as happens with the drip lines.
Miheso believes that if the square-foot farming concept is replicated in many all parts of the country, it will boost food security.
Uses less water
If this method is adopted by the youth with one cultivating just 10 per cent of a quartre acre plot to plant onions, my calculations show they can earn at least Sh25,000 a month. Onions take about four months to grow.
Waceke believes the method can also be applied for maize farming.
“Our experiments show that you can plant 7,800 maize plants in a quarter acre which can be sold at a minimum of Sh10 per cob. This means that a farmer can realise Sh78,000 in four months.”
This is quite some achievement, experts say, observing that in the conventional method, the average yield for maize for an acre is about 30 bags (dry maize) which if sold at Sh2,500 per unit will give Sh75,000. This means that a quarter acre can yield 7.5 bags, translating to Sh,18,750.
Although not all crops can effectively fit in this model of farming, Waceke is optimistic that with proper crop-management and husbandry, farmers can make good money and save the country from perpetual hunger.
As for Miheso, his family is assured of fresh, healthy food grown without chemicals.