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January 30, 2010

Soil fertility grant to boost grain yields

by Kaburu Mugambi

The Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a $18 million grant towards improving soil fertility in Kenya and seven other African countries.
The four-year financing will be channelled through the Biological Nitrogen Fixation Project, which targets more than 200,000 small-scale farmers in the eight countries by improving food production and soil fertility through expanding production of legume crops, thus increasing inputs from biological nitrogen fixation.


In Africa legume crops often fail to fix useful amounts of nitrogen because their partner bacteria are not present in the soil or because the soil lacks other nutrients such as phosphorous, according to agriculture experts.

By using simple technology, farmers can introduce the bacteria as inoculants, together with the seed and small amounts of other nutrients as fertiliser. This simple package gives more than double the yields of farmers in many cases, and helps to improve soil fertility.

Planning, National Development and Vision 2030 minister Wycliffe Oparanya said growth of legumes to ensure effective biological nitrogen fixation could meet the use of 50 kilogrammes of nitrogen a hectare recommended by Abuja Summit in 2006.

Oparanya said in Brazil and Southern Africa rates of nitrogen fixation with soya-beans under field conditions could exceed 300 kilos a hectare. “Although the inclusion of legumes has the potential to improve system productivity, often less than five to 10 per cent of cultivated land is currently planted with field legumes,” the minister said during the launch of the project in Nairobi. “Grain legumes are often included as minor inter-crops in fields of cereals and other staple crops.”

The project’s annual benefits at the conclusion of the project are projected at $31.9 million based on estimates of increased productivity by the targeted grain legumes and their contribution to yield of subsequent maize. Soya-beans, common beans, cowpeas, groundnuts, chickpea and pigeon peas are the target legumes.

Daily Nation

 

 

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