Improving Maize Yields and Soil Fertility through Education
During the time that Dow AgroSciences has been working with AMPATH in Kenya we have learned the importance of maize in the everyday Kenyan diet. Maize is the starch staple in the Kenyan diet from grain consumption, to using meal to make ugali and fermented products to make local beer. It is also commonly used on farm with high market dairy farmers feeding their cattle silage and small-scale farmers using the post-harvest trash for fodder. However, maize is not the easiest crop to grow in Kenya, a country whose elevation varies from 100-2900m above sea level. The challenges Kenyan farmers face exist throughout the entire life-cycle of the crop. Poor soil fertility results in low yield. Seed quality is varied with 80% of farmers using a hybrid that was released in 1986, with fake and poor quality seed being prevalent in the market causing greater concern. Fertilizers are expensive and not always readily available. Disease/ pest pressure during the growing cycle and during the post-harvest period causes yield reductions, farmers not aware of best practices and not having access to suitable technology. Despite these numerous challenges farmers insist on growing maize.
Dow AgroSciences and AMPATH identified this as an area of opportunity in 2014 and developed a program of demonstration plots in counties located within the AMPATH catchment area. In the first year (2014/15) 8 plot sites were selected, growing to 21 plots in year 2 (2015/16). Each of the plots were located on small-scale farms (between 1 and 5 acres in size) all owned by farmers who are members of AMPATH groups. Selecting the correct farmer to participate in the program is essential to success as it is important to have ownership by the individual farmer but also by the broader community. To ensure reliable buy-in and support by the group community, AMPATH field officers met with the groups and together identified the most suitable farmer to participate.
Several activities were undertaken as a part of the program.
- Soil Analysis
- Plot Set-Up
- Seed Selection/Supply
- Fertilizer Selection/Supply
- Pest Control
- Plot Scouting
- Harvest and Post-Harvest Management
The final part of the program and one of the most important was the farmer open days. Four farmer open days were run at key stages – participant farmer selection; soil sampling; plot demarcation / planting and crop maturity. These farmer open days are essential to demonstration program as it provides the opportunity for knowledge sharing, questions and development. Over 600 farmers were reached at these days, who in turn shared what they learned with others.
Worldwide farming is never easy and this maize season was not without its challenges. The key challenge we faced was poor germination rates. Poor land preparation, dry spells and low seed germination rates resulted in 14 of the plots requiring replanting. This meant time was lost, crops didn’t receive rain at the tasselling and weeds were able to make a head start on growth. As a result the yield responses were not as significant as originally hoped for.
We did see some great results despite these challenges! The majority of the trials showed an increase in yield compared to traditional farming methods. The addition of a liming product also delivered a yield response. Most importantly the key messages of good agronomic practice were shared with a large group of farmers who saw the improvements and plan to implement these best practices on their own farms. The aim of these plots is to enable extension, education and long-term adoption, at which we are succeeding!
Dow AgroSciences and AMPATH plan to continue this program in the 2017/18 maize season, learning from the past two seasons and building to deliver more knowledge. Dow AgroSciences, AMPATH and our farmers are all learning. Each season we conduct this program we all learn how to improve yields and soil conditions, resulting in more food and income for the farmer and their families. By working together we are developing solutions to feed the growing world.