Restoring soil fertility by using an organic fertiliser

Field with flowers

Poor health, fertility and low nutrient content in agricultural soil are amongst the biggest constraints for agricultural production in Kenya. Repeated use of soil-acidifying fertiliser, especially ammonium-based DAP, lowered local soil health, fertility and nutrient content, resulting in declining agricultural productivity. As smallholder farmers lack access to knowledge, information and technologies, preventing them from using Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM), the situation has not improved or has even worsened.

Ferm-O-Feed, a Dutch-based manufacturer of organic fertiliser, presented Fertiplus 4-3-3, a certified organic fertiliser made with 65% organic matter and a high carbon concentration, as a potential solution to this situation. Using the fertiliser would help restore soil fertility, increasing productivity and improved yield quantity and quality.

The HortIMPACT project created a partnership with Ferm-O-Feed, through their Kenyan distributor International Partnership Services East Africa (IPSEA) with the aim to promote Fertiplus 4-3-3 with smallholder horticulture farmers. The partners created an innovation case to demonstrate the value of organic fertiliser and present it as a viable alternative to chemical fertilisers. The HortIMPACT project co-funded the case and helped facilitate it. As part of the innovation case 24 trial sites in 12 counties to measure the effects of the organic fertiliser on the yields of 25 horticultural crops.

With local county governments’ support, IPSEA created 160 demonstration plots, and showcased the fertiliser’s use to 900 farmers. The field exhibitions lead to 5,022 inquiries about the product, leading to 3,430 orders and 2,299 units were sold. IPSEA also provided buyers with information proper use and application techniques.

Farmers using the fertiliser reported increased yields and higher quality produce. They also stated they experienced better returns on investment. Nelson Wafula, IPSEA field expert noted that the fertiliser’s use improved soil health, leading to higher productivity, yield quantities and quality. Translating into increased income for the farmer household.

“I have been growing chillies for more than 10 years and have never seen a difference in leaf colour or stem diameter. Except for the yield that I realised this year after using Fertiplus. On average a good yield is 2.5 kg-3.5 kg per plant, but this season I got an average of 5 kg-6 kg. All my neighbours want to learn from me! This has made me get KES 85,000 more in my quarter an acre; this season only!” - Rachel Mukami, Chilli and Bixa Farmer in Mkunumbi Village, Lamu West Sub-County in Lamu County.

“My Purple passion fruits have been aborting flowers throughout the seven years I have been growing them, specially during the dry seasons. With Fertiplus the abortions have reduced significantly and I was able to harvest 18-20 kgs per vine, while in other years I only manage 10-15 kgs per vine depending on the season. Also, the fruits were clean and free of injury. It means I have consistent yields and quality all year round by using this fertiliser.” - Nicholas Bett, Passion Fruit and Kale Farmer in Kipchimchim Village, Ainamoi Sub-County in Kericho County.

The innovation case revealed several challenges that currently prevent the business case from growing further. According to Bernard Ndolo from the HortIMPACT project and Mr. Wafula, the most pressing obstacle is Ferm-Feed’s and IPSEA’s lack of distribution capacity. After raising awareness through the demonstration plots, they were not able to meet demand for the organic fertiliser and only fulfilled two thirds of the placed orders. Other challenges involved realising the planned demonstration plots and implementing more detailed scientific testing of soil fertility and crop quality. Both these issues can be attributed to a lack of budget in the innovation case. Finally, there was a lack of technical knowledge on sustainable agricultural practices amongst extension officers that complemented the needs of the innovation case.