Mobile soil testing kits salvage Western Kenya soils

Over 800 farmers in Trans-Nzoia have benefitted from a project where researchers are using mobile soil testing kits to detect acidity in soils and then giving the farmers lime free of charge to boost soil fertility. This comes at a time when FAO reports that over 60 percent of arable land in the country is highly acidic.  

The project in its’ pilot phase was initiated last month in a move aimed at replenishing soil fertility in the county considered as Kenya’s food basket. The county has been experiencing a wave of poor yields in the recent past with farmers registering yields as low as 10 bags per acre. A case in point is one family’s testimony from the county who cannot even risk selling any of their cattle to purchase fertilizer in fear of dismal yields. “Initially, we used to sell even two cows to purchase fertilizer because we knew that we would recover the money from the better yields at the end of the season. However, currently due to the unpredictable low returns from my once fertile 4 acre piece of land, I cannot risk even risk selling a goat to buy fertilizer because of poor yields,”

According to Lawrence Munene from ARM, the project is in line with their greater goal of impacting positively on the farmers livelihoods. “When we set out to manufacture farm inputs like fertilizer, we vowed to change the conventional way of dealing in agribusiness. We already know that there is a problem from what we have been hearing but we want to establish the real problem on our own so that we can offer a long term solution.”

As a result, the firm has sent out a team of researchers led by Dr Mwangi Wanjohi who for the past one month have pitched camp in Trans-Nzoia country. The team is using mobile soil testing kits to establish the PH levels. Through coordination from the County government, the program has seen about 800 farmers having their soils sampled for free. The county officials help to identify the worse hit areas with high acidic levels and map it out for the testing and analysis.

Farmers’ whose soils have been sampled and PH levels found to be below 5.5 are offered free 4 bags of lime per acre. The lime which retails in the market for Sh600 is also a product from ARM. As opposed to the conventional limes in the market for agricultural purpose, Munene explained that Dormax lime is finer and is capable of helping a farmer realize yield improvement instantly. This is as opposed to the conventional lime that can take over three seasons for soil to gain its fertility.

Munene warns that if clear soil mapping and testing is not done, farmers spending money to buy fertilizer will be investing in an white elephant project since they will not realize any improved yields.  He warned that whether a famer uses the best soil nutrient combination and the soil is acidic, he is bound to fail. The low PH levels in the soils block the roots of the plants preventing them from consumption of the nutrients available in the soil and therefore this result into stunted growth and yellowing of leaves in crops like maize which translates into low yields. The application of lime over time in acidic soils helps replenish it eventually restoring its’ fertility.  

The program will roll out to other parts of the country with Bungoma shortlisted to be the next. “Our aim is to ensure that the whole country is covered but we shall conduct our exercise gradually although other partners can come on board to speed up coverage,” said Munene.