Henry Mwiti proudly walks through his 18-acre farm, inspecting maize that has just flowered. He has been growing maize for the past 20 years. When he started, he used conventional tillage methods. But in 2000, Mr. Mwiti started practicing conservation agriculture on two acres of land. After seeing the benefits, he gradually extended those practices to his entire farm.
He explains: “I learned that I did not need to till my land. Instead, I started using a ripper. I also started planting my crops through the mulch … from the previous season’s dried stalks and leaves, using a jab planter.”
Mr. Mwiti lives in Mwireri village in Laikipia County in central Kenya. He and other farmers in his area learned conservation agriculture techniques from the Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies, or KENDAT.
For example, Mr. Mwiti learned how to grow beans between his maize plants, a practice that adds nutrients to the soil and reduces run-off.
He explains the benefits: “I slowly started realizing an increase in my yield. After harvesting my maize crop, I grow beans as a way of rotating my crops. I am now able to feed my family, provide fodder for my animals, and still have some yield to sell.”
Dr. Joseph Mutua is a manager at KENDAT. He says conservation agriculture is ideal for areas where rainfall is low and unpredictable.
He explains: “It is a farming method based on three principles: minimum soil disturbance hence little or no soil erosion; constant ground cover which improves water retention and conserves the temperature of the soil … and mixing and rotating crops from season to season to maintain soil fertility.”
Dr. Mutua says conservation agriculture discourages burning crop residues, which releases carbon and other gases to the atmosphere. He says that, in the long run, farmers who switch to conservation farming benefit from higher yields, improved soil fertility and water retention, and spend less time and money on ploughing and weeding.
But Dr. Mutua says that, although more farmers are switching from conventional to conservation agriculture, some farmers are hesitant. He explains, “The biggest challenge has been to change farmer’s minds from something they have been practicing for many years.”
Because of the numerous benefits, Mr. Mwiti is happy to encourage other farmers to start conservation agriculture. He says: “I am doing less work, and my yields have increased. I am now able to concentrate on my other passion [which is] training other farmers on conservation agriculture.”
Mwiti says he used to harvest up to 11 bags of maize from one acre. But with conservation agriculture, he says, “My yield has doubled. I can harvest up to 22 bags from one acre.”
In a good season, he earns about US$600 from his maize. He also grows beans and keeps livestock.
Mr. Mwiti says he no longer struggles to support his family. Now that he practices conservation agriculture, he can feed his animals and save money to buy farm inputs with the income he earns selling his maize.
This work was created with the support of Canadian Foodgrains Bank as part of the project, “Conservation Agriculture for building resilience, a climate smart agriculture approach.” This work is funded by the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.
Photo: Henry Mwiti hand weeding his maize crop