Farmers attend a soil fertility training organised by the Siaya county government. Photo Credit: Henry Owino

Soil fertility decline leaves a bitter taste in the mouth among farmers

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”D” dropcap_content=”AVID Ochiel, 73, has been an active farmer in western Kenya’s Siaya County for the better part of his life. He has occasionally used animal manure but never applied inorganic fertilisers on his farms. To his surprise today, almost every farmer in the county gets worried about fertilisers when the planting season approaches.”]

“In my entire lifetime, several years of cultivating the same farms and growing various crops, I have never used any fertilisers. I have been involved in active farming but never have I used chemical fertilizers during plantation,” Ochiel says.

“It is disturbing to understand this era of fertiliser application where everybody even subsistence farmers are using fertilisers to grow crops. Between early 70s and late 90s, we used to cultivate our land using oxen or hoes and plant seeds- crops freely without the use of any fertiliser or manure.

In fact, the yields used to be plenty and people had to weave homemade granaries for storage purposes.” As climate change continues to ravage several parts of the country, most soils are losing fertility, leading to low yields.

To make matters worse, farmers in Siaya have been complaining about their produce losing its natural taste meaning reduction in nutrients contents.

They say when crops lose its nutritional value, it fetches less money in the market. Some studies have shown how reliance on tillage and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers influence soil life, and thereby soil health, in ways that can reduce mineral micronutrient uptake.

Ochiel now faults fertilizers use as the root cause of tasteless maize, sorghum, millet and even some under-ground crops like cassava. In Asembo, Rarieda sub-county, farmers are shifting from crop cultivation to fish farming in cages in Lake Victoria.

Some of them claim crop production has become an expensive affair and too involving for peasant farmers to sustain.

Jael Anyango, a local resident, says with cost of living going beyond the roof, majority of residents have opted to turn to blue economy.

Buying and selling of omena (dagaa) to major urban towns has become a darling alternative business in the area.

“We grow crops as a tradition in every season and for cultural rituals according to Luo customs but not taken seriously. This is due to poor harvests, little rains and prolonged drought like experienced from October 2022 to February 2023,” Anyango says.

Concerning fortification of foodstuff, Anyango says upcountry inhabitants eat fresh and unprocessed food with all nutrients compared to urban dwellers. For instance, maize-meal are milled locally within the village and usually blended with other cereals to make it more nutritious.

“Take for example, maize blended with sorghum and dried cassava. Such a flour eaten with fish or omena or any other greens.

I tell you, there is no any other fortified foodstuff comparable to our locally homemade,” she says. According to John Obwanda, Agricultural Extension Officer in Siaya County, some of the root causes of soil infertility include erosion either by wind or run-off water.

He regrets that the county has very poor tree cover yet residents are heavily involved in burning charcoal. Obwanda exposes that residents claim to be farmers by heart and through experience yet none consults agricultural experts for advice. He refutes claim on use of fertilisers as the root cause of poor yields and other predicament farmers practice.

“When a farmer cut all trees in his farm and burn charcoal, the possibility of top soil being washed away is high. Again, poor ploughing along the contours using tractor is the leading basis for losing soil nutrients found in top soil,” Obwanda cautions.

He advises that most humus responsible for soil fertility are found at the top layer and plants use it to enrich themselves. He therefore advises farmers to always seek guidance from experts instead of assuming that every seed or crops are suitable for any region. Wear and tear are yet another source of soil infertility in a land that is cultivated over and over again.

Every year, a farmer should endeavor to grow a different crop from previous year to break monotony. The rotational farming helps the land in regaining its nutrients, fertility, control for pests and diseases and holds soil together preventing erosion.

He emphasized that fertile soils give better returns with nutrition hence farmers need not bother much about fortification. “When soil is cultivated throughout the year, the living microorganisms are not given time for aeration and to decompose other living matter such as leaves among others,” he says.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed