Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lime improves Kenya's maize harvest

Isaiah Esipisu in IPS: As the world’s worst food security crisis continues across the Horn of Africa, including in Kenya, some smallholder farmers in the western part of the country are still feeding their families with last year’s abundant harvest. This is thanks to an agricultural programme focusing on reviving the fertility of the soil in the region.

According to David Mbakaya, a soil scientist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), early findings from on going research established that the soil in Western Province was too acidic for maize production due to climatic factors and the overuse of nitrogenous fertilisers. "From field trials we have discovered that the average Potential of Hydrogen (pH) levels in soil within the region stands at 4.5 – meaning that such soil can hardly support growing maize," said Mbakaya.

Scientifically, the neutral pH level, where it is neither acidic nor alkaline, is seven. Anything below seven is acidic, and above that is alkaline. However, maize can withstand mild acidity ranging from 5.5 to 6.5. Research scientists at KARI – Kakamega branch, with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, encouraged farmers to neutralise their soil using lime - a soil additive made from pulverised limestone or chalk. It is cheaply available in Kenya.

"I tried liming my land for two seasons, and the results are astounding," said Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi, a 29-year-old father of two who began farming after he was evicted from Nairobi’s Mathare slum in 2008 following the country’s post election violence….

Maize on a Mount Kenya farm, shot by CIAT, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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