’Soil is one of the most overlooked ingredients in farming and yet it exists right beneath farmers’ feet.Healthy, fertile soils are an imperative starting point for agro-based development.’’
Agricultural development is vital to Africa’s economic growth, food security, and poverty alleviation. Africa’s food security situation has deteriorated significantly, low agricultural production is as a result of weak ecosystems, low inherited soil fertility, and low use of modern inputs such as mineral fertilizers and improved crop varieties. Loss of tropical soil nutrients is a quiet predicament, threatening food security and sustainable agricultural development. Smallholder farmers have a major concern of soil nutrient mining worsened by continuous cropping, inadequate nutrient replacement, and high rates of soil erosion, leaching and removal of crop residues from the fields resulting to declining soil fertility levels that are prohibitive to profitable agriculture. Since fertiliser is very expensive, smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa are being urged to adopt integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) technologies to boost crop productivity through combining fertiliser use with other soil fertility management technologies.
It is against this background that Dr. Jayne Mugwe a Soil Specialist at the Department of Agricultural Resource Management, in Kenyatta University is leading a team to implement the 3 year project titled ‘Scaling Up of Soybean and Climbing Beans Using a Value Chain Based Approach in Maize Based Systems of Central Highlands of Kenya’, which is funded by AGRA Soil Health Program and co-funded by the Market Access Program. The project aims to improve food security and incomes of smallholder farmers in the Central Highlands of Kenya through the increased use of integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) technologies in maize-grain legumes cropping systems. The project is a scale up of a Soybean and Climbing beans Commercialization (SoCo) project implemented by Kenyatta University.
‘’It was envisaged that integration of soybean and climbing beans into the farming systems would play an important role in improving livelihoods through increasing overall agricultural productivity, improved food and nutritional security and increased farm diversification.’’
But what is ISFM?
In a nutshell, ISFM is defined as a “set of agricultural practices adapted to local conditions to maximize the efficiency of nutrient and water use and improve agricultural productivity. ISFM strategies centre on combined use of mineral fertilizers and locally available soil amendments such as lime and phosphate rock and organic matter (crop residues, compost and green manure) to replenish lost soil nutrients. This improves both soil quality and the efficiency of fertilizers and other agro-inputs. In addition, ISFM promotes improved seeds and the use of crop rotation and/or intercropping with legumes like soybean (a crop which also improves soil fertility).”
.........And Why Soybean and Climbing Beans?
Nitrogen is necessary for plant growth, without sufficient nitrogen, plants fail and are unable to grow. However, nitrogen is abundant in the world in gaseous form which plants cannot use nitrogen. Some plants are able to draw the nitrogen gas from the air and store it in their roots with the help of a common called Rhizobium. The bacteria infects legume plants such as soybean and climbing beans and uses the plant to help it draw nitrogen from the air. The bacteria converts this nitrogen gas and then stores it in the roots of the plant. When the plant stores the nitrogen in the roots, it produces a lump on the root called a nitrogen nodule. This is harmless to the plant but very beneficial to the farm.
‘’Soybean and climbing bean were chosen due to their enormous potential to improve soil fertility, household nutrition and incomes of farmers. It was envisaged that increased incomes would result from increased sales of the produce through enhanced production and market linkages.’’
Achievements of Soco Project
The SoCo project value chain approach involved use of demonstration plots; bulking of improved seeds (soybean and climbing beans); supporting households in processing and utilization, and building farmer’s capacity to market the surplus produce.
•Establishment of farmer organisations: Farmer groups were used as the entry point for research and dissemination of technologies, marketing activities and development of sustainable seed production systems. The project strengthened capacity of 600 farmer groups comprising 25,500 smallholder farmers, through training on good agronomic practices and value addition that contributed to more farmers willing to grow and utilize soybean.
•Capacity building of agricultural extension staff: Extension staff were trained on best agronomic production practices, application of ISFM, processing/value addition and marketing of soybean and climbing beans as well as group facilitation skills. The trained extension personnel played a key role in building capacity of individual farmers, farmer groups and local entrepreneurs which resulted to positive impact in Soybean and climbing beans uptake.
•Markets development: To facilitate market development farmers were recruited, registered and organized into Commercial Producers Groups (CPGS). Linkages and business partnerships were initiated with processors and other key potential buyers’ e.g. Promasidor, Wanjis, Imperial foods and Bidco, in efforts to increase market access. Partnerships were also initiated with financial institutions e.g Equity Bank to improve financial and credit access.
•Improved seeds: Over 60metric tonnes of soybean and 2.84 metric tonnes of climbing beans improved seeds was bulked and distributed to farmers
•Soil fertility improvement: Training, demonstrations and field days on ISFM technologies were done. The promotion of soybean and climbing beans provided multiple benefits for farmers through increased utilization by the households.
•Household level impact: Increased production and sales of soy bean and climbing beans has been experienced within the region. There is increased utilization of the soybean in more households due to sensitization on its importance.
Processed and packaged soybean by smallholder farmers from Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu Counties
Training of Post-Graduate Students
Four master students are attached to the project to support research gaps. Their research focuses on biophysical studies; assessing the effects of ISFM and soil moisture conservation technologies on yields, and on social aspects; economic analysis of the ISFM technologies and characterization of farmer groups. Other research outputs from the project include 4 posters presented at the International Conference on “Building a New Generation of Agricultural Scientists”and 3 manuscripts are under preparation.
Research led by:
Dr. Jayne Mugwe – PI
Senior Lecturer, Department of Agricultural Resource Management
Project financed by: Alliance for Green Revolution (AGRA)