Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Conservation Agriculture in Solai

By Sara:

Hopefully you remember that when Anthony and I were in Uganda, I was doing a lot of work regarding conservation agriculture (CA) with our Ugandan development organization partners.  I have been looking forward to being part of similar work here in Kenya.

The Anglican Development Service (ADS) is part of a big conservation agriculture project that is spanning Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.  One of their project sites, in a place called Solai, is quite close to where we live (though it takes a while to get there because there's not a direct road) so I'm going to be heading there pretty often with the ADS staff to check on the project and work with their participating farmers.

There are two agricultural staff from ADS and four community mobilizers who live in Solai, who are overseeing the project.  You can see them all below.  From left to right: me, Mary (from ADS), Stephen (from ADS), Mbogo, Kabasia, John, Lizpah. 

Stephen always likes to participate in whatever farmers are doing when he goes to the field (which is a great trait - to teach and encourage by example), so you can see him below taking a turn planting beans.  He's using a machete to poke holes in the soil, then dropping the seed in a hole.  This is one way you can follow one of the important practices of CA: disturb the soil as little as possible.

The farmers I got to visit with ADS so far, are trying out some cover crops (lablab, pigeon peas, and cowpeas) and mulching to follow the practice of keeping the soil covered.  It's cool to see how they are trying different materials for mulch.  For now, they are even putting mulch alongside their cover crops (like below, with lablab), in order to keep the weeds down, to improve the quality of the soil faster, and to reduce the amount of work they will need to do weeding.

All four community mobilizers are practicing CA at home so they can be an example to the farmers they're working with and demonstrate the benefits to whoever comes by.  Below is Kabasia in part of his home CA plot.

Sometimes, farmers are resistant to using crop residue as mulch because they usually use it as animal feed.  Below, Mary is sharing with one of the participating farmers how, once maize is fully developed, you can cut off the top of the plant, above the cob, and either use that immediately as mulch or feed it to animals and leave the bottom part to put down as mulch after harvesting the maize.  This also helps the maize to dry faster and allows more sunlight to the soil so you can plant another crop between the maize before you actually harvest it.

Below is some maize with the tops chopped off.

And here is the result - this farmer put the tops down immediately for mulch.  She already has another crop growing there - maize in between where the other maize had grown and beans along the lines of this season's maize.

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