4 Agricultural trends to look out for in 2020
Agriculture is the backbone of the Kenyan economy. Over seven million smallholder farmers toil in their farm every day to feed the Kenyan population. With the Kenyan population growing, every day, it is an exciting time to be a farmer. It is also a challenging time to be one especially because of the threat of climate change. As we begin a new decade we look at some of the agricultural trends to expect in 2020.
1. Crop insurance for smallholder farmers
Failed harvests have been taking a huge toll on farmers in Kenya. The weather patterns have changed and rains have become more and more unreliable. This has been resulting to poor yields. Many farmers are now turning to crop insurance to address this problem and face climate shocks. By protecting farmers’ investments in case of a bad season, crop insurance enables them to afford quality seeds, fertilizers and new technologies in the next season. According to Agriculture Research Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga farmers’ compensation during a failed season is not only critical for stabilizing their incomes, but also in building their resilience, thus leading to overall agricultural growth and development.
DigiFarm rolled out an insurance component for its farmers which comes bundled with their agri-loans. With DigiFarm expanding to twenty counties across Kenya, more farmers will be covered by insurance this year. The Kenyan government is also planning to roll out an ambitious crop insurance programme for Smallholder crop farmers across 33 counties in the first quarter on 2020.
2. Soil testing
A study commissioned by the Nation Media Group in September 2019 and which covered 11 counties showed that most of Kenya’s soils are sick and in need of urgent rehabilitation in order to guarantee high yields. Experts estimate that Kenyan farmers lose up to Sh30 billion annually due to depleted soils. It is therefore critical that farmers know the status of the soil in their farms by having their soil tested.
The biggest hindrance to adoption of soil testing has been its cost. DigiFarm has been addressing this by introducing affordable convenient soil testing. They have equipped their field extension officers with portable soil testing kits that analyze the soil and print out the analysis which comes with recommendation on the nutrients missing in the soil. The C.E.O of Kenya Livestock Producers Association, Mr. Patrick Kimani, who is in charge of farmer extension support for DigiFarm says that the soil testing is important since it determines the type and quantity of fertilizer the farmer should use in the farm. DigiFarm in partnership with the various county governments have been aggressively sensitizing farmers on the need for soil testing and we expect increased uptake of soil testing services this year.
3. Organic Farming
2019 saw cancer hit headlines in Kenya with some attributing the rise of cancer to the kind of chemicals used to grow our food. Organic farming was developed as a response to the environmental harm caused by the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in conventional agriculture, and uses ecologically based pest controls and biological fertilizers derived largely from animal and plant wastes and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. It has numerous ecological benefits. Compared with conventional agriculture, organic farming uses fewer pesticides, reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and recycles animal wastes back into the farm.
Demand for organically grown food is growing in the country with emergence of marketplaces dedicated for organically grown products. We now have organic Farmers Market in Karen, Muthaiga, Kitisuru, Naivasha and Kilimani. We predict that more market places will come up in 2020.
4. Hydroponic fodder farming
Land size is continuously shrinking as population increases in Kenya. Matters are made worse by climate change which is affecting the production of fodder for livestock. Hydroponic farming is fast gaining popularity as an alternative to fodder production in Kenya. How does the system work? A selection of grains such as barley are placed onto a PVC mat without soil and sprayed with nutrient rich water solution at predetermined intervals. There is no electricity usage whatsoever. After only 7 days, the fodder is removed from the tray and can be fed to the animal. The animal eats everything (i.e. roots, leaves and nuts) therefore, the hydroponic fodder system is waste-free, 100% sustainable and cost-effective.
Growing fodder through hydroponic has many benefits to the farmer. The hydroponic system requires a fraction of the water usage of conventional farming while still supplying high quality stock feed. It uses minimal land. In an area equivalent to 1.75m, a farmer can grow adequate 2kg barley. That will produce 20kg fodder to feed 1 dairy cow. Farmers using this type of fodder production are guaranteed a consistent supply of quality fodder 365 days of the year irrespective of rain or sunshine with very minimal labour.
If there are any trends we have been left out, please share them by commenting below.