Researchers are blending and customizing fertilizers to suit farmers needs as details emerge that the leading cause of soil infertility is wrong fertilizer application. Although most farmers from the developed have adopted the practice, in most parts in the country, the trend is still unheard of among many smallholder farmers who make the bulk of the nation’s producers. The practice’s success is mainly hinged on the availability of local manufacturing factories dealing in fertilizer.
Statistics from FAO indicate that Kenya is ranked number two in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of fertiliser consumption after South Africa translating to over 500,000 metric tons annually. Despite this, most fertilizer usage in the country is through conventional methods with stakeholders in the sector noting that most farmers do not conduct soil mapping to establish the nutritional deficiencies a fact that has led to continued erosion of the soil PH levels better explained in the dwindling yields.
It is behind this turn of events that ARM the manufacturers of Mavuno brand of fertilizer introduced fertilizer customization and blending services to their clients. According to Lawrence Munene from ARM, the launch of the fertilizer in the country over 8 years ago, the company wanted to re-align the sector by providing tailor made solution to farmers. In a sector with varied farmers dealing in different crops and utilizing different soil types, it’s only prudent that you avail all possible options for one to realize improved yields a fact that also helps fight poverty among the population.
Initially, the bulk of clients who opted for blending and customization of fertilizer were mainly large scale commercial farmer organizations like Unilever, One Acre Fund and Brewery companies who demanded specific nutritional combinations for their crops like barley. However, with recent soil testing campaigns from various concerned organizations like FAO, more farmers are gradually picking up the trade with hope of turning their once low yielding farms to notable results. Munene explained that they host different farmers daily with demand high during the planting season.
The process of fertilizer blending and customization is only possible after one invests in soil testing analysis. Soil testing enables one to know the nutritional deficiency and ideal crop for the area. Depending on the one’s preferences, the service can be done by private soil researcher or sample taken to any nearby KARI institution for an analysis which ranges about Sh1000 per sample collected.
After collection of the soil’s test results, farmers then take the results to ARM to get their fertilizer customization and blending which will depend on the needs of the soil. “We have our consultant at the factory then gives free scientific advice to the farmer basing on the results,” noted Munene. The advice ranges on the best husbandry methods, crops fit for the soil coupled with the fertilizer nutritional composition. The farmer then gets his ideal customized fertilizer later in the day.
Although the expert’s advice is offered for free at ARM, the customized fertiliser’s price may not be the same with the market price. This according to Munene depends on a varied of factors. The price of the customized fertilizer will entirely depend on the nutritional combinations that are recommended by the scientist.
“These nutritional elements’ prices are determined by the global market pricing and depending on what is more prominent in the composition that will dictate the price. For instance if the scientist recommends that one’s soil and crop in question needs more potassium and at that particular time the market price for potassium is high then the price will also factor in that element,” he explained.
According to FAO, fertilizer alone is able to contribute towards 55percent of additional food production. Since there is no scope for extending the cultivable area, more productivity per unit area is the only option and fertilizer is the main driver to achieve this. However, stakeholders in agricultural sector who are now lobbying for minimization of the impact on climate change are lobbying for use of customized fertilizers which they believe to maximize crop yields while minimizing unwanted impacts on the environment & human health.