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Friday, 10 July 2015

Organic farming promoting drought resistant crops in Laikipia County

Interview by Milcah Rajula
Organic farming is a system of production that relies purely on natural inputs for agricultural and livestock production. According to a consumer survey conducted by Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) for the Enhancing the Coordination of Organic Products Access to Markets in East Africa (ECOMEA) project – a Danida-funded project-a good percentage of the consumers are willing and ready to pay premium prices for organic products.
KOAN’s Teresa Ndirangu and Richard Mwangi share their experience implementing the organic approach in Laikipia County where scarce water resources demands good sustainable land management practices.
Teresa: Most KOAN projects mainly focus on organic farming but also promotion and upgrading of water resources and sustainable land management through: introduction of drought resistant crops like tea tree; usage of drip irrigation; and growing of cape chestnut, borage and Night Primrose which are rich in essential oils.
Richard: Livestock keeping, which we encourage, ensures production of manure for use on the farm. Making compost manure is also encouraged as a way of fertilizing the soil besides ensuring moisture is retained during the dry spells.
Other farm practices such as terracing, mulching, inter-cropping are also encouraged to conserve water. Farmers are encouraged to dig water pans to tap on the flood water during the rainy seasons which can be used for irrigation and consumption by livestock during the dry season.
How many groups do you engage with the County?
Teresa: KOAN and Earth Oil work with small scale farmers who are grouped in zones namely: Huku, Mwireri, Barguret, Sweet Water, and Timau among others. These zones, which include community members, are each represented by elected officials who represent them in meetings especially under the umbrella body of Kenya Organic Oil Farmers Association (KOOFA).
Tea tree farm
KOOFA and Earth Oil work hand in hand with the latter company providing extension workers who perform structured training: improving farmers’ skills, demonstrating the importance of buffer zones in organic farms and other farming methods. Overall, KOAN works with both parties in providing technical know-how on best practices in organic farming.
Which eco-friendly fertilizers would you advise during farming?
Teresa: Rock phosphate fertilizer is the most recommended as the advantages are: harmless to the soil, cheap and has other nutritional minerals which build the soil.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in implementing your projects?
Teresa: Some farmers do not appreciate the value of practicing conservation. They prefer planting exotic trees such as Eucalyptus instead of indigenous trees. However, we are persistent in passing the message that more indigenous trees need to be planted since they improve soil fertility.
Another challenge is gender imbalance. Some women are reluctant to engage in the projects because they are raised up to believe that the projects and the returns belong to their husbands. In turn, we are training KOOFA and Earth Oil Ltd extension workers on sensitizing the farmers on gender integration to ensure men and women have equal shares in the projects.
Richard: Low quality seeds pose another challenge. To address it, seed companies with support of the county government, should provide certified seeds so that farmers can purchase them as needed.
What recommendations would you give to the County to address the issue of water resources and sustainable land management?
Teresa: The County government needs to employ strategies conservation of water. In most instances, incentives should be awarded to farmers who are using local resources: usage of organic fertilizer and drought resistant crops in their farms, for their efforts in promoting conservation.
Richard: Construction of water pans, ponds, dams, venturing into shallow wells and conservation of river banks needs to be implemented to promote water harvesting in the County.
Additionally, farmers should be encouraged to have a minimum area on their farms under tree cover and also to practice agro forestry. More emphasis should be given to planting of indigenous trees because of the vital role they play towards conserving the ecosystem.
For more information, contact: Teresa Ndirangu, Production and Training Adviser, teresan@koan.co.ke and Richard Mwangi, Marketing Officer, richardn@koan.co.ke
Source: Laikipia Mali Asili. Download a copy of the newsletter here
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