At a time when the price of fertilizer has hit unprecedented highs, innovative farmers are applying the water-soluble fertilizers through a drip irrigation system, a move they say have saved them up to fourty percent in less fertilizer purchase and encouraged full utilization of the nutrients by the plants.
Known as fertigation, the process involves dissolving fertilizers like DAP, Diammonium phosphate, and CAN, the commonly used fertilizers in Kenya, in water and keeping them for approximately three hours before releasing them to the crops. This according to the farmers using it allows for close control over the type and amount of nutrients delivered to the plant, allowing the farmers to apply nutrients at the precise time and rate they are needed.
This leads to increased nutrient absorption by plants, which improves the quality and productivity of crops. “It has also greatly assisted us save money and scarce water resources by reducing runoff and the amount of fertilizer and chemicals needed. In addition, fertigation is less labor intensive than other forms of fertilizer delivery,”said Vincent Wamae a horticultural farmer in Limuru who has been using fertigation for the last five years.
According to Rispa Waitherero an extension officer working with the farmers in Limuru, three drips of fertilizer laden water is enough for a plant growth. Traditionally farmers use a handful to sprinkle two to three crops. “That handful being in just three crops is so much waste, and is feeding the crop with more nutrients than it requires.
The handful can be used for upto ten more crops,”said Rispa. Farmers like Wamae who have traditionally used over five fertilizer bags in an acre now say they have use three at most “and the results are just the same, if anything they are better because the plants get the nutrients in doses,”he said.
However Rispa cautions against over diluting of the fertilizer. “You need to know the ratio of fertilizer to water, other wise you may over dilute the fertilizer making it loose potency. For fertigation to work effectively for example a 10 kilos of fertilizers should be mixed with 20 litres of water,” she added.
Its a novel idea that hundreds of Limuru farmers have perfected with impressive results which extension officers hope to spread across the country at a time when farmers uneconomically apply fertilizer even as it remains prohibitively expensive and erratic in supply.
The price of DAP fertiliser per 50kg bag stands at Sh4500 up from Sh2500 an year ago.The government subsidized fertilizer has also run into a snag with suppliers taking advantage of the low price to restock it and sell it exorbitantly. “So fertilizer which is a necessity by every farmer has now become a luxury, and this is having a severe impact on the food security situation in the country,”said Rispa.