Nelly Bassily | September 23, 2013
Solar power beats pests
Farmers in central Kenya are using a new practice called “solarization” to fight pests that live in the soil. The practice was introduced to more than 200 farmers in Kiambu, in central Kenya, following damage by potato blight in 2011.
Solarization typically involves covering moist soil with plastic sheeting for four to six weeks before the crop is sown. The soil under the plastic is heated by the sun, and the heat is trapped in the topsoil by the plastic sheeting. Soil temperatures can reach 50°C, which kills a wide range of soil-dwelling pests, including weeds, nematodes and insects.
The practice can be used for many crops, so can save on pesticide costs across the farm. Solarization can protect the soil for up to five planting seasons.
Kenyan farmers embrace beekeeping
More than one thousand farmers in western Kenya’s Migori County have abandoned their long-time cash crop – tobacco – in favour of beekeeping. A farmer with 30 beehives can earn up to $3100 US every four months, the same that a farmer could earn from three hectares of tobacco in a whole year.
Farmers believe tobacco is responsible for environmental degradation in the area. Curing just one hectare of tobacco requires burning six tonnes of wood. Isaiah Marwa is a local beekeeper. He says, “This was a very green area 10 years ago. But now, the residents have cut down all the trees for tobacco curing.” Those who still grow tobacco must buy firewood from neighbouring communities.
Better prices and market access through text messages
Thousands of small-scale Kenyan farmers are using text messages to get market prices for their produce. The system, known as M-Farm, was developed by three young Kenyan women in 2010. It now has more than seven thousand registered users.
M-Farm offers three services: price information on 42 crops, collective crop sales, and collective input purchasing. Daily prices are collected from traders in five markets by independent data collectors.
The mobile phone platform is eliminating the need for middlemen. Before using the platform, farmer Gerald Mokaya used to earn 40 US cents for a kilogram of tomatoes. Today he earns over a dollar.