By Bob Aston
Conservation agriculture is emerging as an alternative farming method by many smallholder farmers. In a bid to show farmers the difference between conservation and conventional agriculture, Participatory Approaches for Integrated Development (PAFID) organized a farmer’s field day at Nyakinyua area of Kinamba Division in Laikipia County on August 27, 2014.
The field day was held at Anthony Mathenge’s farm- a resident farmer in the area. PAFID helped the farmers who were present to learn more about conservation agriculture using demonstration farm. Also represented in the occasion was Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), Pure Circle Kenya Limited and Tree is Life Trust (TILT).
In the commonest form of conservation agriculture, the soil remains undisturbed from harvest to planting except for nutrient injection. Planting or drilling takes place in a narrow seedbed or slot created by coulters, row cleaners, disk openers, in-row chisels or roto-tillers. Weed control is primarily by herbicides with little environmental impact.
Mr. Juma Oliver from PAFID urged farmers to practice conservation agriculture in order to reduce their production cost. “Cost of production is on the rise. It is important for farmers to look for ways of reducing mechanical tillage and labour cost. Conservation agriculture not only reduces on cost of production but it also has a lot of benefits to farmers,” Mr. Juma told the farmers.
Conservation agriculture is beneficial as it reverses the effect of soil degradation caused by mechanical tillage. Soil under conservation agriculture has very high water infiltration capacities thus reducing surface runoff and soil erosion which in turn improves the quality of surface water leading to; a reduction of soil erosion and an enhancement of ground water resources.
Farmers were cautioned against burning crop residues for maintenance of important plant nutrients sources and improved soil potential. They were also advised to keep the soil covered and to mulch their plants in order to not only protect the soil but also to improve the growing environment for the crop.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, conservation agriculture is a concept of “resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment”.
Conservation agriculture holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages. It is a way to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability. The farmers who participated in the demo plot during the field day used conventional approach, basin approach and reaping approach on their farms.