LOCAL NGO HELPS OVER 50,000 FARMERS’ COUNTRYWIDE SAVE AND ACCESS CHEMICAL FREE SEEDS

In 2009 Daniel Wanjama and his four colleagues left their jobs at the Ministry of Agriculture to start the Seed Savers Network, a non-profit agro-diversity social enterprise based in Gilgil, Nakuru County to promote environmentally free access to seeds by farmers.

According to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the informal seed sector in Kenya accounts for about 60-70 per cent of most seeds planted by farmers across the country. In this, farmers recycle seeds from previous harvests thereby denying them the chance to maximize yields.

“We did our own survey in five villages in Gilgil with sample farmers and found many challenges that they encountered like low prices, low-quality products, oversupply leading to wastage in the farming of traditional crops such as arrowroots, cassava, sweet potato vines and cereals,” said Daniel.

With skills acquired in his previous career in the ministry, the four implemented their idea to educate farmers on a variety of services including seed bulking, seed multiplication, seed selection, small-scale seed bank development, among others that would see farmers in the region grow different types of crops chemical free.

“After farmers harvest seeds, we normally sort the best grains from the weak ones and thereafter preserve them with diatomaceous dust, a pesticide and agent that absorb moisture and keeps the seeds dry,” said Daniel.

Farmers preparing sweet potato vines for planting

This type of farming ensures the conservation of natural resources (land, water and air) by ensuring no environmental pollution by use pesticides. This involves training of farmers on the use of organic bio-pesticides formulation, liquid manure and vermin compost to minimize the use of external inorganic farm inputs such as urea or diammonium phosphate.

“Through agro-biodiversity, we established that indigenous foods such as yams, arrow roots, cassava among others were almost going into extinct and thus it was necessary conserving them by showing farmers how to do it for free,” said Daniel.

The process comprises saving quality seeds from their farms in a bank and identifying the best seeds for a certain region.

The network gets their resources for training, workshops, practical’s and agricultural lesson, seeds buying and planting materials through local and International grants like the Government of Kenya, Tudortrust, Kenya Food Rights Alliance (KEFRA) among other organizations.

They have so far trained more than 50,000 farmers across Kenya. They also train the youths through mobilization and believe that due to the high rise of population food will be scarce hence need to venture into agro-biodiversity.

According to World Bank, Kenya’s population is growing at a rate of 2.5 per cent annually.

“We believe in a bright and healthy future of the population thus the success of plants and animal biodiversity practices lies in today’s youth and that is why we are relentlessly reaching out to more youth groups and individuals to train them on the importance of seed and biodiversity preservation,” he said.

However, they encounter some challenges like biopiracy; exploiting their genetic material from the farmers without paying compensation of patents by some foreign organizations.

“We need to keep away from philosophical ideas on farming and put the right practices and research in crops conservation for our people,” said Daniel.

Interested farmers can contact Daniel on +254 712 451 777

Written by Gerald Njihia

Link:http://farmbizafrica.com/profit-boosters/2593-local-ngo-helps-over-50-000-farmers-countrywide-save-and-access-chemical-free-seeds

The Hidden Treasure In Organic Fertilizer

Over the years, there have been drastic changes in agricultural production, processing and storage compared to ancient Agriculture. Agrarian Revolution sparked the new era of industrial Farming which has raised the debate for sustainable agriculture. Excessive application of inorganic fertilizer has been on increasing scale in Kenya. The farming communities are left on their own to decide on the quantities and frequency of application. This creates disequilibrium between the health of their soils and profit margins for agribusiness companies.

The concept of the law of diminishing returns needs to be emulsified for farmers to safeguard land as a factor of production, reduce cost of production and enhance agricultural sustainability. The quality of land determines the growth of crops based on PH levels, build-up of diseases, soil structure and texture, ion exchange capacity, water, retention capacity, aeration and drainage. In addition, the use of inorganic fertilizers increases the cost of production. This directly reduces the gross margin for their farming.The hope lies in empowering farmers to use locally available agri-inputs to improve the fertility of their soil. This will contribute to realization of a green agriculture.

Anchoring agricultural production on a sustainable concept is required in an ideal farming system in Kenya. The country is held at cross-road; increasing food production for increasing population (45 Million) and maintaining the health of soils. Thus production pressure is mounted on a fixed resource of production (Land) which leads to excessive use of inorganic fertilizers and average production below the desired and expected yields. Increased fertilizer rates also affect the availability of other nutrients and accumulated levels affects the water intake of crops due to salinization.

According to  National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Program  2014 report, there is a general decline in land productivity due to declining soil fertility arising from the following factors; Continuous mining of soil nutrients by crops without adequate replenishment; Inappropriate farming practices such as lack of crop rotation, cultivation down the slope; Land degradation due to erosion of fertile top soils; Continuous use of acidifying fertilizers by farmers; Inadequate knowledge on crop requirements and soil characteristics; Inadequate use of farm inputs; Blanket fertilizer recommendations; among others

An organic fertilizer offers long-term solutions in solving this problem. Inherent properties make a buffer to reduce acidity in the soil, improve water holding capacity of the soil, improve soil structure thus minimizing rate of wind erosion, improves soil fertility by supplying nutrients to the crops naturally and enhances agricultural production sustainability.

In addition,(Geert,2014) indicated that The  use  of  compost  or organic  manure  is  currently  being  advocated  as  an option  for improving soil fertility conditions for poor farmers.The use of organic fertilizers increases the soil  organic  carbon  pool  and  soil  pH,  improves  the  soil  structure,  decreases  bulk  density, provides  macro-and  micro-nutrients and  enhances  microbial  activity.

Seed Savers Network strives to reach more farmers to apply organic fertilizers in their farms to derive the benefits.

Training farmers on making liquid manure

Through farmers outreach programme farmers are trained on soil health and fertility as foundation of crop production, various crops useful in improving the fertility of soil especially legumes for inter-cropping, Comfrey and Tithonia for making liquid manure for use as organic foliar, Compost manure, Bokashi and farmyard manure which through extension work experience we learnt farmers viewed it as ‘an old way of farming.’In addition, through organization’s soil testing services the findings have been low organic carbon and  low soil PH (Acidic soils. The solution squarely lies in adding organic matter in the soil. More farmers need to get the training and manage their farms as a closed system in supply of farm inputs.

TRAINING FARMERS ON AGRO-ECOLOGY

As the size of land decrease small scale farmers continue to apply excessive fertilizers and chemicals to increase food production. This has also been evident also in modern farming where fertigation has been developed to supply fertilizers, soil amendments and other water soluble produce to the crops through irrigation. Foliar spraying has been growing to increase the size of the produce or give it desired colour based on the consumer preferences.

However this approach requires more and more application of the inorganic inputs to increase production each time. This makes the cost of production very high which impoverish small holder farmers as the agro-companies to the bank smiling. In addition the relationship results other effects which are shouldered by the same farmer.

The farmer destroy his soil with macro/micro nutrients imbalances, development of acidity/alkalinity, killing of useful organisms, increased cost of production which minimizes his/her profits, health hazards; through inhaling/coming into contact with the chemicals, consumption of food with  bioaccumulation or drinking contaminated water.

In view of this, Seed Savers Network has embarked on training farmers the interrelationship between the environment and agricultural sustainability. We try to bridge the existing gap in raising their awareness on the implications of increased use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals on future agriculture and generations. We have been reaching farmers through farmers’ field school, field days, farm and the media (Mulembe FM, Radio Amani and Inooro TV) to sensitize them.

We have training on farm made solutions to control pests and increase the fertility of their soils. Bio-intensive farming has also been integrated to increase production and diversity in a small portion of land. We continue to enhance use of liquid organic fertilizer that enables small scale farmers to apply it as foliar and ensure production of vegetables vertical bags and hanging gardens which also conserve water. These technologies are ideal for farmers with small pieces of land and especially for urban and peri-urban farming. Different crops can easily be intercropped in these gardens.

We encourage planting of Tithonia and comfrey at their farms for source of raw materials which we distribute to the

Extension officer showing farmers Tithonia

m during training. These crops also have additional benefits to farmers as source of fodder to livestock and fence for Tithonia and as a local vegetable for Comfrey. Farmers rearing rabbits are also encouraged to use rabbit urine in making the liquid manure.

The aim of making liquid manure is to quickly provide a crop with adequate natural plant food during the growing season. Liquid manure is ready for use after two or three weeks compared to six weeks or more for compost. The liquid manure which is made from bio-slurry or animal manures supplies nutrients fast.

When using farm yard manure, farmers are advised to mix them and put in a sack or a gunny bag. This ensures the liquid manure comprises high level of nutrients. The bag is then suspended in a bucket with clean water which is readily available at their homes. They are then guided on how to cover it using suitable material available. The farmers then wait for three weeks where they dilute it at a ratio of 1:2 (liquid manure to water) for application as a foliar or through drips to their crops.

The same concept applies for farmers with rabbits where they harvest it and ferment it for 21 days. It is well covered and farmers can dilute it at the same ratio for use. When using plants we advise them to use green and young ones. Flowering and fruiting plants has less nutrients required. Tithonia and Comfrey are the crop we use in our work as they contain high level of macro-nutrients (Nitrogen, potassium and Phosphorous).Materials are chopped and put in a bucket with water. They are covered and stirred after four days. The process continues up to 14-21 where it is diluted and applied to their crops.