By Gabriel Onyango
In Kenya, the fertility of ones soil is most often the determiner of whether families eat or starve. However, our soil fertility levels are dismal: with acidic, nutrient starved soils carrying the same crops year after year. Soil testing eliminates the guesswork in farming and works towards improving productivity levels.
According to the Kenya Soil Health Consortium, a collaboration of different bodies meant to harness the efforts of all stakeholders towards improving fertility levels in the country. There is still low and declining crop productivity levels among small holder farmers who are the country’s majority. This is despite many years of soil fertility management research by individuals and organizations like the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Organization (KALRO) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
This is a clear indication that the issue is not with in adequate research but with implementation.
Soil testing and analysis traditionally involved taking a sample of soil from your farm, taking it to a lab where factors such as pH, nutrient level and level of organic matter are tested then analyzed to find out which crop could grow best. However, technology is now disrupting this model.
Brian Bosire, founder Ujuzi Kilimo, a modern soil analysis service, says. “Productive farming begins with informed decisions. As soil is the beginning to crop life, failing to do proper analysis is like applying medication without proper diagnosis. You end up causing more harm to the soil and crops.”
Advantages of soil testing
Soil testing eliminates guess work from farming, allowing every decision to be based on information and insight.
One gets the proper fertilizer recommendations as per the nutrients your soil is lacking allowing farmers to save money by only buying what is needed.
Soil testing guides farmers on the proper crops to grow that would do well in their particular soil.
Farmers also get to know the measures to takes in order to correct their soil e.g liming and manure application for acidic soils.
Dangers of not testing your soil
Low nutrient uptake: Some nutrients e.g potassium are not easily absorbed by plants in acidic soils.Thus no matter how well one fertilizes their soils, nutrients just remain unused in the soil.
Farmers with untested soils waste money in buying fertilizer that contains nutrients already plentiful in the soil thus unneeded by crops. (different fertilizers have different nutrient levels for different soils).
Untested soils are much more likely to have poor yields as plants do not have a favorable environment to grow in.
Technology in soil testing
The days of testing your soil by taking samples and traveling long distances to access laboratories, leaving your farm on standby as you await results are long gone. Thanks to innovations like the Ujuzi device.
Ujuzi Kilimo is a company that uses sensors to conduct soil and farm tests, getting data from which farmers receive easy to understand advice on fertilizers, seeds, weather and best practices.
Using the Ujuzi device, data about your soil is captured and taken to Ujuzi Kilimo’s comprehensive database where insights are generated. All this happens in real-time, within two minutes you quickly get an SMS with recommendations and advice on how to proceed.
The SMS service is interactive, allowing farmers to ask questions, in addition, Ujuzi provides free weather updates based on farmers’ location.
Soilcares Kenya users a different model with their mobile testing units, which are simply vehicles fitted with soil testing equipment traveling to different places.
The vehicles travel deep into rural Kenya where farmers can’t easily access soil testing services and setup soil testing ‘camps’ ; where farmers from that region bring their soil for testing.
This model works well with farmers’ groups where farmers can collectively call in a mobile soil clinic to their region. In case of a lone farmer, one can either find out where the nearest clinic is being held and go or send soil samples to SoilCares’ office in Karen, Nairobi.
SoilCares has also recently developed and introduced soil sensors that can test soil outside the lab.
Brian Bosire, Ujuzi Kilimo founder adds, “We need to feed the soil with the right nutrients in order to have quality produce and sustained returns for our farmers.”