Saving Soils through Portable Soil Testing

By Jason Farr, visiting intern from American University, Washington, DC

Soil degradation is a major environmental challenge in Kenya and has a disproportionate impact on small farmers who depend on the soil for their livelihoods. According to Mulinge et al. (2015), 12 million Kenyan’s live on degraded lands and many experience lower agricultural productivity as a result. In fact, between 1981 and 2003 cropland decreased in productivity by 40%. In terms of the economic impact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that about USD 390 million is lost annually due to the degradation of soil and includes unsustainable farming practices, agro-chemical use, and invasive species as among the causes. To help combat soil degradation and to help farmers protect their soil and improve their crops, Seed Savers is now offering soil testing services.

Soil sampling with staff and farmers
Sampling soil for testing

On May 18, 2017 Seed Savers took part in its first soil testing training with more than a dozen local farmers from around Gilgil. The SoilCares Foundation in partnership with the Rabobank Foundation provided Seed Savers with three state-of-the-art portable soil testing devices from SoilCares, the Dutch company that created the device and provides the soil testing platform. SoilCares sales representative, Jacob Gathuru, spent the afternoon training staff and farmers on the technology and allowing the group to test the soil at a local farm.

The SoilCares testing device was developed to be mobile and easy to use to improve access to this technology for small farmers. It uses infrared light to examine the soil and compare it to thousands of soil samples from the region that have been laboratory tested to determine the soil quality for various crops. After sampling and testing the soil the device is paired with a smartphone through Bluetooth technology.

A SoilCares smartphone application allows the data to be sent to their database to be analyzed. Before sending this information, farmers use the application to select the crops they would like to grow or are growing and how much they hope to yield. After the analysis is done, SoilCares returns a report with information on how suitable the land is for the crops selected and on the kind and quantity of inputs that would best help farmers achieve their desired yields. Seed Savers will then work with the farmers to ensure the use of organic input options and ecological farming practices to meet their needs.

Anne Nderit in a red jacket and brown hat smiling at her farm in Gilgil, Kenya
Anne Nderitu at her farm in Gilgil, Kenya

When Anne Nderit, the farmer whose soil was tested during the training, was asked if she would make use of the soil analysis, she responded, “Of course I will. It was good, informative.” She believes testing the soil was important because it allowed her to know “what organic matter to improve on” to maintain soil health. She thinks this information can help her increase her yield.

Seed Savers staff member, Lydia Nyambura is excited about the service as well. Lydia believes that “This service will help the farmers we work with who have been farming year in and out having soil and production challenges to improve their farming skills.” Through the application of this service and the promotion of organic inputs and ecologically sustainable farming practices Seeds Savers can do its part to combat soil degradation by helping repair the soil of the small farmers it works with.

If you would like to request soil testing services or learn more about Seed Savers and soil testing with SoilCares, please contact Seed Savers at info@seedsaverskenya.org.

Related Resources

Our soil testing  flyer

SoilCares – http://www.soilcares.com/en/

SoilCares Foundation – http://www.soilcaresfoundation.com/en/

Rabobank Foundation and Soil Cares Foundation Partnership – http://www.soilcaresfoundation.com/en/rabobank-foundation.html

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