CGIAR’s initiatives-Ukama na Ustawi partnership with KALRO

The Alliance of Bioversity International & CIAT (International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) partnered with the CGIAR’s International Water Management Institute (IWMI) (which is leading the Diversification in East and Southern African initiative—Ukama na Ustawi) and the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in hosting a field, learning and demonstrations day under the theme Mechanization & Conservation Agriculture at the KALRO’s Njoro, Nakuru County demonstration farm 180 km to the North-West of Nairobi City CBD.

The demos hosted manual & small, medium, and high-tech mechanization equipment to raise farmers’ and partners’ awareness of the benefits of mechanization in agriculture.

“We’ve invited the private sector to exhibit and provide demos on the Agricultural mechanization equipment currently available and we’re happy with their response and participation,” explained Dr Boaz Waswa, a Senior Soil Scientist & the Program Coordinator for CIAT Africa.

Adding Under Ukama na Ustawi, mechanization of agriculture and the practice of conservation agriculture are important practice concepts in our East & Southern Africa (ESA) regional initiative for diversification & building resilience for maize farming.

According to Dr Waswa, Ukama na Ustawi commits to sustainable, climate-smart agriculture, particularly for the maize crop. A survey from farmers in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zambia showed that maize is a major crop in the four countries and in many parts of the ESA region hence the need for resilience and mechanization strategies.       

Apart from being a crucial pillar for agricultural transformation from the limiting traditional hoe–based farming, mechanization eases operations, boosts efficiency, and is a driver for conservation agriculture. Moreover, CGIAR’s initiatives prioritize mechanization as an easily adopted means of the agriculture sector service providers helping to remove drudgery from agriculture.

“Despite the urgent and increasing need for mechanization in agriculture, affordability remains a challenge given that many small-holder farmers can hardly afford to buy the equipment including the manual ones. So we conduct a learning cycle with the farmers and service providers to enable the farmers to learn and appreciate the benefits of mechanization and for the providers to get ideas on how they could customize such equipment for the farmers,” expounded Dr. Waswa.

Conservation Agriculture:

This is a modern concept being promoted to allow the soils in many countries in the ESA region to heal.

“Our soils are sick for several reasons including over-exposure of the soils to the sun which then burns off organic carbon and other nutrients from soil. The overexposure results from the conventional plowing and digging up of soils using the traditional hoe,” Dr Waswa explained.

Dr Waswa Boaz

According to him, organic carbon is good food for healthy microbes in the soil. Essentially, he expounded, conservation agriculture advocates for minimal tilling of soils to allow the soils to rest and regenerate; the use of organic manure, and non-removal of crop residue from the farms.

“Crop residues cover the soils and reduce exposure to the sun rays and thus help in preserving nutrients. The crop residues also stop the growth of weed by suffocating the same and reducing the possible use of chemical herbicides,” added Dr. Waswa.

The organic matter left on top of soils eventually decomposes, softens the soil, and ultimately increases the soil’s health and fertility. Healthy soils allow for efficient use of chemical fertilizers given that not much of such fertilizers are really necessary.                 

“We also encourage crop diversification and inter-cropping of cereals such as maize and beans with the beans helping in trapping nitrogen from the atmosphere and dropping into the soils thus improving soil fertility and health. Canola can be inter-cropped with sorghum for the same reasons,” he added.

According to him, the right and certified seeds are an important component in conservation agriculture.

“We partner with KALRO to develop drought and diseases and early maturity seed varieties. We have a wide variety of maize seeds including the recently developed drought–resistant DK 777 maize variety.  KALRO and CIAT have also recently developed the 70-day maturity Nyota beans variety that is fitting for different ecological areas in Kenya; we bundle seed varieties and their management to empower farmers. The Nyota variety, very rich in iron, has proved very popular among farmers and often goes out of stock,” expounded Dr Waswa. He emphasized that seed varieties are being designed for a better future with better harvests.

Despite having smaller tillage areas, small-holder farmers still face labor shortages which can be overcome through mechanization. CGIAR’s initiatives denoted that mechanization can also help the farmers to increase the areas under cultivation.

Minimal tillage: Minimal breakage of the land provides for sustainable farming given that only the spaces that shall accommodate the planted crops are tilled. This is akin to furrow farming allows the untilled land areas to heal and regenerate. This minimal tillage is attained through modern equipment that can deeply rip the soil in furrows to allow proper aeration of the soil and adequate water penetration in the soil.

According to Dr Waswa, conventional disc plowing creates hard pans in the soil which goes on to stop water penetration.

“Mechanization of agriculture doesn’t really present a threat to the environment & climate change through the use of fossil fuels that power the equipment,” explained Dr Waswa. 

“Modern ripping and harrowing equipment reduce the need for massive plowing, as seen in the conventional disc plowing; ripping and harrowing allows for soil aeration and deep penetration of water and better rooting of crops along the rip-lines and harrow lines.

Soil ripping and harrowing reduces the time spent preparing the soil for planting and consequently reduces the time used in powering the machines via fossil fuels such as diesel thus reducing any threat of carbon footprint,” Dr Waswa explained in conclusion.

Some of the equipment on site:

Agventure’s equipment dubbed the Planter and also known as a One Pass or Sumo Trio attracted considerable attention at the demos. As the name denotes, it does all farming operations in one pass or round namely Chiselling, Harrowing, Planting, and Rolling, and is pulled by a tractor or trailer head.

It has a Chisel Plough, Harrow, Seed and fertilizer (containers and precision dispensers), and a roller.

The Chisel plough goes 60cm and breaks any hard pan in soil which enables Water and roots to go deeper. Further, the harrows chop any soil lumps or crop debris.

The Fertilizer application uses GPS & adjusts to any tractor speed and is preset precisely to discharge required amounts based on Soil analysis recommendations.

The seed dispenser also is precisely preset to discharge the seed at the rate required per unit area (Like kgs per acre)

The roller helps in firming up the soil, enhancing the seed and soil contacts plus breaking any big soil lumps.

According to Don White & Tony Bor of Agventure, the One Pass has many advantages such as precision planting; reduced operations costs (four operations done once); Conservation of soil moisture; and reduced traffic to the farm (Once instead of four) which compacts soil.

“Our focus as Agventure Limited is to promote and train farmers on Conservation Agriculture amongst the farming communities with emphasis on promoting practices that enhance Soil Health, Soil Moisture conservation, and Good Agricultural Practices. All these leading to better yields, enhanced incomes, and food security,” added Bor.                                                                                  

According to Agventure’s site staff, during the CGIAR’s initiative, the One Pass has been on trial and has proved very popular and done 1500 acres. In the future, it shall be provided to farmers in areas such as Narok, Mt Kenya, and Uashi Gishu among others.

Other equipment among many others–manual or engine or tractors powered—at the demo included a pneumatic planter and foliage harvester all pulled or powered by a tractor or a trailer. While the pneumatic planter can plant fodder among other crops, the foliage harvester harvests fodder and proceeds to make silage.

The Role of Women in Agriculture & Mechanization–Ukama na Ustawi perspective:

Nora Hauke-Louw, CGIAR’s Diversification for Resilient Agri-Food in East & Southern Africa Project Coordinator shared her views:

Nora said that at Ukama na Ustawi, they’re very excited that women play an important role in agriculture in the ESA region thanks to CGIAR’s initiative.

Nora Hauke-Louw

Importantly, mechanization allows the women in agriculture to faster and more efficiently thus sparing some time that they can use to do other things to benefit their families and communities.

“This really excites us. Have women accepted mechanization? When I came into this demo farm, I saw a woman driving a big tractor into the farm and I was very excited and happy,” she said.

“Our cultures must change especially in the ESA region to allow women to drive and operate equipment and perform other tasks deemed as only reserved for men. In the region, different machines & equipment are accepted differently including the smaller machines with small starters being accepted more.

“Some of the challenges we’ve met include Societies taking too long to accept and embrace the use of agricultural machines and equipment and also refusing to do things differently. We’ve worked in Northern Kenya encouraging women to accept agricultural mechanization and also in Southern Malawi where there are many small-holder women farmers.

Before the importation of or buying of agricultural equipment the context or circumstances in which such machines shall be used should be considered and such shouldn’t be bought without a plan. We partner with bodies such as KALRO to identify farmers’ needs for mechanization equipment and advise accordingly.

“In collaboration with our esteemed partners, we aim to reach over 100,000 farmers with conservation agriculture and mechanization awareness and we’re keen that 70 percent of these shall be women. We’re happy that more women are now willing to embrace mechanization as opposed to 30 years ago and given that it’s proven that changes happen in a generation (about 25 years), we expect remarkable changes in mechanization in the future.”

More insights on Conservation Agriculture and mechanization: –

Saidi Mkomwa, the Executive Secretary & CEO African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT) shared these;

“The African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT) has been involved in conservation agriculture, mechanization, and ecosystem preservation & conservation for over 25 years working with diverse partners including KALRO, Ukama na Ustawi and others providing extension systems and services to farmers.

“Conservation Agriculture is sustainable and has many benefits including reduced labor requirement courtesy of mechanization; saving of finances due to reduced labor costs and less use of agrochemicals, and adaptation and resilience to climate change. Unfortunately, there is low adoption especially due to ignorance of its benefits. This method of agriculture often requires specialized equipment yet mechanization is quite low in Kenya except in Nakuru County.                                                                                                                                                             

“Further, research has proved that animal plowing/plowing in addition to traditional farming and tillage using implements such as the hoe is not good and sustainable and hence the need for adoption to new conservation agriculture which also emphasizes the need to retain crop residue in farms for the residues’ several benefits. It is now evident that fodder crop farming must also be embraced to stop the use of crop residues as livestock fodder in farms where livestock farming is done concurrently with crop farming.

“Yet there’s a bit of resistance to Conservation Agriculture and hence the urgent and pressing need for more awareness.

CGIAR’s said that only very few farmers are appreciating the benefits of this method of farming. Additionally, many farmers are unable to get conservation agriculture services given that accessing the requisite technology is difficult. Conservation Agriculture service providers must therefore be empowered.

For instance, rippers are quite expensive yet demand for them is quite low. We need to create more awareness on this new equipment and technology and also empower the service providers to invest more in new agricultural concepts.”

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