“Before conservation agriculture, we could not manage 20 sacks of 90kilogram of unshelled maize from an acre, yet I harvested 21 sacks of the same quantity, this time of shelled maize. My harvest is also increasing as I am getting 35 sacks of 90 kilograms of shelled maize.
A lot of farming practices in Kenya are passed down from generation to generation and from copycat practices where one farmer does what their neighbor cultivating the same crop is doing. This has been what Charles Magana a maize farmer from Mikinduri village in Tigania East, Meru County has done from when he began farming.
Charles is a conventional farmer who has been preparing his farm by ploughing it entirely before planting and then reploughing when planting and weeding a number of times before harvest.
However, the increasing harvests his neighbor has been getting through practicing conservation agriculture- a practice that advocates for minimum tillage, maintenance of soil moisture through residue retention or planting cover crops, and crop rotation-has finally convinced him that this is the best practice.
“I have been using a lot of money in production through conventional agriculture since I have to hire laborers to plough my land, others still to replough and plant, and also buy seeds and fertilizer, yet my crops do not produce as favorably as my neighbors who only hires a ripper tractor to make rip lines, then he uses manure, fertilizer and top dressing on his maize, and I can tell even before harvest that his yield will be five times more than mine, yet the climatic conditions on our two farms are the same,” Charles says.
Charles has also gathered a group of other farmers cultivating their crops using conventional farming and they are learning conservation agriculture. They intend to start this year and hope to harvest as well as John’s neighbor or better.
Eunice Wambui Mwaura is another farmer that has reaped immense benefits from conservation agriculture. The Maize farmer from Elburgon in Molo Constituency, Nakuru County has been a conventional farmer for as long as she can remember. She was born into a farming family and naturally did farming as she grew.
“The practice I knew all along was what my mother had taught me, to plant maize and intercrop it with beans. We never used to harvest both crops because they would compete for nutrients. I got tired of cultivating beans because I wouldn’t harvest anything - we only got the leaves- because the maize would benefit from all the nutrients,” Eunice states sadly.
She says she got lucky when representatives from Participatory Approaches for Integrated Development (PAFID) found her on her farm and sought to introduce her to conservation agriculture and its benefits. She listened to them and decided to try it out the following year since she had already ploughed her land, since the ripper blades they advocated for her to use instead of the disk plough that they normally used would not be able to rip on land that was already ploughed.
Eunice was surprised at the first harvest after using conservation agriculture.
“Before conservation agriculture, we could not manage 20 sacks of 90kilogram of unshelled maize from an acre, yet I harvested 21 sacks of the same quantity, this time of shelled maize. My harvest is also increasing as I am getting 35 sacks of 90 kilograms of shelled maize. I have also learnt that I do not have to wait until harvest, as I already have buyers for the soft maize straight from the farm thus, I do not have to wait till the maize is ready for harvest, dry it then sell and this saves me money as well. I am also the one that determines the price the buyers will buy the maize at, and since they know that I produce quality maize, they buy at my set price,” adds Eunice.
It has now been five years since she began conservation agriculture and she says she will never practice any other type of agriculture since it does not cost much, it improves the soil and also does not use up a lot of her time and she is able to manage her other businesses. She adds that she will age gracefully as she no longer has to keep bending to cultivate vast farmlands. She is happy that her output is influencing other farmers too. There are farmers that have been impressed by her harvest and are seeking to know how she achieved such. Her neighbor for instance started practicing conservation agriculture this year and he is seeing a great difference in his maize
Eunice has been able to buy another tractor and she is in the process of developing rental units on her plot of land from the sale of the crops she plants using conservation agriculture. This would not have been achievable in such a short time before.
John Kuria Njogu, a lead conservation agriculture farmer from Piave, Njoro Constituency, Nakuru County has introduced conservation agriculture to farmers under him and they are getting increasing yields. He uses his farm for demonstration and when farmers see that they can get an upward of 40 sacks of 90 kilograms from an acre as he does, they are encouraged and make the decision to change their practices to follow the guiding principles of conservation agriculture. He has aggregated 10 acres where farmers are now waiting for the ripper to make the ripper lines. Some have dedicated an acre, others half yet another two acres. The farmers he has already trained and are practicing conservation agriculture are already seeing a good increase in their yield, With the ones that were getting 12 sacks of 90 kilograms from an acre at best now harvesting 25 sacks from the same acre.
Part of Njoro constituency is prone to drought, but for those practicing conservation agriculture, they are able to harvest as ripping helps in water retention and improving their output and ultimately their livelihoods compared to those practicing conventional agriculture.