Why organic fertiliser from TZ is all the rage in Kenya

As concern grows over the impact of synthetic fertilisers on soil composition and the environment, farmers are adopting organic options.

Fertiliser reverses declining production

In many parts of Kenya, including Nyanza, Due Due to overuse of synthetic fertilisers, Western and Rift Valley soils have become quite acidic, causing a reduction in yields.

Continuous use of fertilisers that increase the soil pH has been blamed for the rising acidity, as production per acre dwindles. “Prolonged use Prolonged use of inorganic fertilisers results in fixation of nutrients in the soil, instead of being released to the crops for growth,leading to increased acidity and tillage of the field.

This calls for a neutralising agent before planting and farmers need to carry out soil tests to determine the fertilisers they need.  One of the fertilisers being promoted for use to help reduce acidity and boost yields is Minjingu Organic Hyper Phosphate. This is an organic fertiliser mined in Minjingu, Tanzania. It has been on the Kenyan market for three years. Minjingu contains 28 to 30 per cent of the phosphate necessary for catalysing seed germination and soil recapitalisation.

It also contains 36 to 38 per cent of calcium oxide, which reduces soil acidity. It is thus advisable for use in leached soils. This would facilitate the release of other elements into the soil. Unlike inorganic fertilisers that contain chemicals, Minjingu has a low percentage of heavy metals that cause soil leaching.

Mr Daljit Singh, the CEO Kondola Enterprises, says: “MOHP + has phosphate, which after application, is available in the soil for a long period, compared to the chemical P, a heavy metal element prone to fixation.”

He is the sole agent and distributor of the fertiliser in Kenya. Due to the fertiliser’s germination enhancing effects, Mr Singh says it increases yields per hectare by 30 per cent.  “When you use inorganic fertilisers, the chemicals tend to ingest the seeds instead of speeding up their growth. Only a few of them survive the effect. Minjingu neutralises the chemical effect, enhancing the rate of germination.  The 30 per cent lost with use of inorganic fertiliser, is recovered with the application of Minjingu,” explained Mr Singh.

Due to its high solubility, the fertiliser is suitable for direct application in mixed fertilisers, especially foliar. It works well for both cash and food crops such as maize, cabbages, tomatoes, wheat, sunflower, sugarcane, potatoes and wheat.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture website, 3,000 farmers in Kakamega North have been using the fertiliser for a number of years and the results have been fantastic.

A soil scientist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Foundation, Mr David Mbakaya, said: “Before introduction of the fertiliser, the farmers used to harvest only three to five bags of maize per acre, but the yield increased five-fold after its application.”

The Kari researcher, in an article on the ministry’s website, added that the organic fertiliser promotes soil re-capitalisation, and correction of acidic and leached soils after using chemical fertilisers over the years. Farmers can buy the product from various agro-dealers across the country in retail packages including a 25kg bag, retailing at Sh1,250 and 50 kilos, which goes for Sh2,350.

Some facts you need to know about fertilisers

Fertilisers are either organic or inorganic material, natural or synthetic in origin, which are added to soil or other growing media to supply plant nutrients. Organic fertilisers are derived from materials like farmyard manure, while green manure and most composts are of plant origin. Organic fertilisers have several advantages over the conventional, which include increasing the soil’s organic matter content and improving its  physical  characteristics, resulting in increased water holding capacity and better soil structure.  Organic matter also acts as a store for essential elements like carbon, phosphorous, nitrogen, sulphur and trace elements.

Mineral fertilisers originate from ores, air or water. Because of their high element concentration and solubility, their beneficial effects on plant growth are quick and easy to recognise, says the Kari manual.  Fertiliser materials differ in terms of mineral solubility, acidity, alkalinity and physical form. The mineral nutrient content and solubility of a fertiliser in water determines its efficiency. How it works is affected by rainfall and temperature. It should have adequate moisture to go into solution, but too much moisture is not good because it enhances loss through leaching and erosion.

Different crop species accumulate nutrients differently, even under the same soil fertility levels. “Every crop has a specific recipe for nutrient requirements unique to itself,” says a Kenya Agricultural Research Institute manual

Nutrient status, pH, clay content and organic matter content can also influence the efficiency of fertiliser.  Different crop species accumulate nutrients differently, even under the same soil fertility levels. “Every crop has a specific recipe for nutrient requirements unique to itself,” says a Kenya Agricultural Research Institute manual.

Fertiliser method application, stage of plant, time and frequency can also influence its performance. Fertilisers can be applied through broadcasting, side banding, placing with seed, topdressing, foliar applications and applying organic fertiliser. Another method is where the fertiliser is put in the hole then covered with soil before the seed is placed. Microdosing of fertiliser entails putting a bottle cup full in the hole with the seed.

Using less fertiliser and getting more

With the rising cost of agricultural inputs, especially fertilisers, farmers are being forced to adopt innovative methods, to not only increase their yields, but also to cut expenses. The methods being applied include microdosing.

This, according to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), is a technique that involves the application of small, affordable quantities of fertiliser using a bottle cap, either during planting or as a top dressing three to four weeks after emergence. This technique is said to reduce wastage and maximise the use of fertiliser and improve productivity.

According to a report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an innovative way for African farmers to reverse decades of soil nutrient mining and depletion, which, coupled with the vagaries of weather have caused food insecurity in many countries, is to optimise the use of fertiliser in such an inexpensive method of application. “Fertilisers are very expensive, which limits use. Fertiliser microdosing enables farmers to purchase small amounts, making it more affordable,”  AGRA says. It adds that years of testing have proven the viability of the practice, currently being promoted by Icrisat. The little amount of fertiliser used makes it affordable for the smallholders, most of whom cannot afford to make bulk purchases. This method can be used on a wide range of crops, including maize, millet, sorghum and groundnuts. It has been known to double or even triple yields on soils that have otherwise been depleted by overuse.

According to Icrisat, poor soil fertility ranks second after drought, as the single biggest cause of hunger in Africa. However, through fertiliser microdosing farmers have been able to increase their yields by between 30 to 100 per cent. “Rather than asking how a farmer can maximise yields or profits, microdosing asks how a farmer can maximise the returns to a small initial investment – that might grow over time, turning deficits into surpluses,” the Icrisat report says in part. Some reports say that microdosing has enhanced the yields of millet and sorghum by as much as 120 per cent and incomes by up to 50 per cent in at least 200,000 households across Africa. This is besides contributing 70,000 tonnes of extra grain worth about Sh1.02 billion (US$12 million) to the food security of the farmers in drought-prone areas.

Triple boost for farmers

It is an organic product that has sparked waves of interest and excitement among small and large scale farmers and could be the solution many have been looking for to solve their soil problems and issues of fertility.  BioDeposit is a dark-brown substance that could be easily confused for a smooth paste of wet mud. Packaged in a 12-millilitre plastic sachet, it does not immediately draw interest nor does the 10kg bag that resembles wet soil that is rich in humus. However, these products have sparked waves of interest and excitement, among small and large-scale farmers.

For  long, fertilisers  have been a constant headache with the situation getting desperate at the onset of the planting season. Scarcity, high prices and fake products labelled as common fertilisers are some of the challenges farmers have had to contend with year in year out.  But the introduction in the market of this highly effective organic fertiliser, could help improve the situation.

The fertiliser and soil conditioner imported from Latvia is leaving big smiles on the faces of those who have applied it on their farms, and the word being associated with it is triple produce. Coffee farmers say the number of kilos produced by a single bush have tripled, while maize farmers have confirmed that a single stalk is producing more than three cobs. The yields of an Irish potato farmer have also increased threefold. Those applying greenhouse technology, too, have sweet stories to tell. Farmers, who had tried to reclaim degraded farms in vain, now talk of a complete makeover.

“I had tried to plant cassava, Napier grass and even beans in an effort to make my half acre piece of land fertile again. But I almost gave up on farming,” says Mr John Gachoki, a farmer from Kirinyaga County.

Mr Gachoki, a one-man guitar musician going by the stage name Man Mbiuki, has now turned his farm into an orchard, thanks to the organic fertiliser. Mangoes, passion fruit, apples, water melons, oranges, lemons and pawpaws, now dot the once over-cultivated land. The acre under cultivation at Gwa Gicheru village on the Mwea-Embu road is attracting visitors from far and wide. Some come to find out the magic behind the healthy-looking fruits, while others are buyers directed to the farm from as far as Nairobi.

Mr Gachoki says that for the first time in four years, he has been able to harvest seven bags of maize from the previously degraded half-acre farm. He attributes the “historic yield” to the fertiliser. “So far I have used it on water melons, maize, mangoes and Irish potatoes.

Now that there is no doubt it works, I will use it on sweet yellow passion fruits, beans and peas as well,” he says. Mr Gachoki and his wife, Caroline Wanjiru, had relocated from Nairobi in 2008, to try their hand at farming, but the family land on which they had hoped to grow horticultural crops turned out to be a big disappointment. For the past three years, the couple have had limited success, mostly due to the high cost of inputs. Use of compost manure and chemical fertilisers did not yield as much and the couple had decided to invest in poultry. But barely a year after applying the folia feed on maize, water melons and mangoes; they now see their one-acre farm as a goldmine. Half of the two-acre farm is occupied by the homestead and poultry houses.

Until recently, Mrs Gachoki was not convinced that the decision to move from Nairobi was the right one.

“Today, I would not return to Nairobi even if I was offered a job. I am earning good money from mangoes, water melons and passion fruits while the six bags of maize in the store assure me I will not buy maize flour any time soon,” says the former small-scale trader.  What really excited Mrs Gachoki about the fertiliser is that she was able to harvest a water melon weighing 14kg. Last year, when she decided to experiment on growing the fruit, the biggest she could get was 8kg, even after using all the recommended fertilisers.

“Watermelons of the Sukari F1 type normally fetch between Sh35 and Sh40 a kilo. So one weighing 14kg should give you about Sh500,” she says.

She harvested the watermelons in early March and obtained 1.2 tonnes from her half-acre farm, which is also intercropped with sweet yellow passion fruits. “I am sure I would have harvested more had I used the correct spacing but I was not able to do so because of the passion fruits,” she says. Her mango production from 80 trees of the Tommy and Kent varieties increased to 1.038 tonnes from 500kg the previous season. The fruits were bigger and more attractive, both in colour and texture.

Maize farmer

Until three years ago, Isaac Muraguri had never imagined that a maize stalk could produce eight cobs. Though the stalk could only support three cobs to maturity, it was a spectacle he had not witnessed in his Nyandarua County since he became a serious farmer two decades ago.

Muraguri, from Githioro village in Njabini, South Kinangop has made a name in the village and beyond as a prominent potato and cabbages farmer. “I had planted the maize as wind breakers on the edges of my farm because we are never keen on growing the crop due to the cold weather. I applied elixir just for fun but I was pleasantly surprised by the effect,” says Mr Muraguri.

Since then, he has been using BioDeposit to grow potatoes and cabbages and his produce is a source of envy. “Previously, an acre of potatoes would produce 30 bags but today, its gives me 60 bags of 120kg each. Sometimes it can go to 70 bags if I pack them in 110Kg bags,” he says. The effect of the organic fertiliser on cabbages has similarly been dramatic. “Now my cabbages weigh up to 10kg while previously the largest I could boast of was seven kilos,” he says. Mr Muraguri has been applying both elixir and agro BioDeposit fertiliser on his three-acre farm.

Coffee farmer

For Mr Samuel Njau, his coffee bushes have produced the highest yield ever. “A single coffee tree produced 15kg last season. I am used to each tree giving out five kilos. I have no doubt this fertiliser is the solution to our woes,” says the elderly farmer from Kiambu County. His farm at Gathiruini village has been attracting visitors eager to learn the magic behind this record production.

The berries and leaves look healthy, giving Mr Njau’s bushes a clear distinction from others in the neighbourhood. “Coffee farmers always encounter problems when sourcing for fertilisers from millers or co-operative societies. Many are unable to repay the loans after obtaining the inputs on credit due to low production,” says Mr Njau.

The farmer, a former field officer for various millers, including Kenya Planters Co-operative Union (KPCU), has 2,000 coffee bushes. He admits that it has been a challenge to maintain healthy trees due to the high cost of inputs and unpredictable global coffee prices. “I applied the BioDeposit folia fertiliser in April last year. About 40 tree bushes consume a single sachet, which costs Sh200. Considering the expected results, this is more economical than using chemical fertilisers, which retail at Sh5,000 for a five-litre jerrican,” says the farmer. Since he applied the fertiliser last year, his bushes have not been attacked by leaf rust. He sells his coffee as parchment to a company in Ruiru town. “I spray the fertiliser three times per season during flowering and then count 14 days,” he explains.

Potato farmer

In Narok County, Mr David Njoroge, is still elated after his quarter-acre farm produced 25 bags of Irish potatoes. In late 2011, he had planted four sacks of potatoes and purchased 50kg of fertiliser at Sh4,500. When it came to harvest time, he got only 16 bags, which he sold at Sh1,200 each. “I realised that it was not profitable and decided to grow peas and kales (sukumawiki),” he says.

It was in August last year, when he heard about the organic fertiliser and decided to try it on potatoes. He also sprayed fungicides since it was during the October short rains. When it came to harvest time, Mr Njoroge could not believe it when he got 25 bags after such a minimal input. His neighbour who used chemical fertiliser got 36 bags from two acres.

Early this year, he planted an acre of potatoes and is hoping to harvest 100 bags after using the BioDeposit fertiliser. However, he points out that if it was not for the dry January/February weather, he would have harvested 110 bags.

He has so far used four fertiliser sachets at a cost of Sh800 and has sprayed three times, the first being soon after germination and the other two in intervals of 15 days. Mr Njoroge, who leased the land, says he does not irrigate it. The organic fertiliser, he adds, keeps the plant healthy even when there is no adequate water in the soil. “We have received very minimal rain and it’s a miracle the potatoes have pulled through the dry weather,” says the father of four. He now wants to try the same fertiliser on spinach, peas, carrots and kales.

So what is this product causing so much excitement?

BioDeposit Agro is a biologically active soil conditioner made from natural ingredients: Sapropelic colloid and active peat.  Sapropel, which is extracted from the bottom of fresh water lakes, contains a rich complex of natural vitamins, minerals and bacteria that promote rapid formation of humus in the soil, activating metabolic processes and restoring its fertility.

The organic fertiliser keeps the plant healthy even when there is no adequate water in the soil. We have received very minimal rain and it’s a miracle the potatoes have pulled through the dry weather

The other product, peat, creates a soil structure, improves its aeration, saturates with the humic acids and increases the moisture-holding capacity of soil.  The conditioner has been found to increase crop production more than the common chemical fertilisers. The product is said to create soil humus while preventing erosion, restores soil fertility and improves its structure, increases cropping capacity by 40-60 per cent and reduces yield ripening time. It also suppresses the growth of pathogenic nematodes and increases soil moisture content by four to five times. It also improves fruit and vegetable taste and increases the amount of vitamins in it. It is recommended for depleted soil and saline soil.

The other product, the blackish paste, is Elixir, a water soluble, biologically active material produced from specially prepared peat. This is the product that most farmers are opting for since it is sold cheaply. Sceptical farmers are keen on first carrying out an experiment to determine its potency.

It can be used by all type of plants, but is said to be most effective when applied to soil with low humus content, sandy soil; clay soil; and soils disturbed due to long-term irrigation. Elixir intensifies nutrients mobilisation and improves soil physico-chemical properties. It increases plant immunity to diseases, stress and extreme climate conditions.

According to Mr Job Kareithi, the chief executive officer of Capacity Building Consultants, the company which distributes the products, one plastic sachet is mixed with 20 litres of water and sprayed on crops as folia. This fertiliser is also available in a one-litre container, which is mixed with 2,000 litres of water and can be applied on 10-acre wheat or maize plantation.

Agro is packaged in 17 litre containers and though some may consider it to be a little bit pricy, it is applied only once every three to four years. The products are said to work best if used together because Agro creates a beneficial nutritional medium, while Elixir enhances the vitality and growth of your plants. However, BioDeposit on its website www. biodeposit.eu advises that the products are not a replacement for fertilisers.

Therefore, to increase the content of certain nutrients in soil, while using it, it is permitted to use fertilizers. “But their quantity applied to the soil for plant nutrition should be eight to 10 times smaller than without usage of our products,” says the site.

“If you used mineral fertilisers for your soil before, then they have already accumulated in high enough concentrations. At the same time they are in the soil in the form of salts that are difficult to absorb through plant roots. BioDeposit will release nutrients to plants and  provide roots with an access to them. What government says about organic fertiliser. The Ministry of Agriculture through its research agency Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO) is yet to carry out specific research on Biodeposit.

However, it is government policy to promote organic farming mainly because it is spending quite a colossal amount of money on importing fertilisers. The current trend in the international market and even local consumption is also tilted towards organic produce.

“Adapting to organic farming will save the country millions of dollars spent on importing chemical fertilisers. There is also a preference for non-chemically grown farm produce, both locally and internationally,” says Dr Stephen Kimani of KALRO Muguga.

Dr Kimani adds that the institute has not yet carried out specific laboratory tests on Biodeposit but admits that it is aware the product is being used locally, and that his office is yet to receive a complaint from farmers on its use.  The chief executive officer of the company behind importation of the fertilisers in the country, Job Kareithi, says the product has international certification. “There is an international body called SGS which has given this fertiliser a clean bill of health.

That is why no complaint has been raised by those who have used it,” he says. The CEO points out that the Government has recognised organic farming as one of the ingredients that would help the country attain Vision 2030 objectives.

Besides the gains from farm produce, Mr Kareithi says the government has included the benefits anticipated from carbon credits in its manifesto where farmers are expected to reap millions of shillings. “Agriculture and forestry remain the main source of carbon credits in the country.

BioDeposit fertiliser is a non-pollutant unlike nitrogen based fertilisers, which farmers have been using for years,” he says. Mr Kareithi says that farmers in Brazil, South Africa and India have continued to benefit from carbon credits through use of the non-pollutant on their farms.

if you used mineral fertilisers for your soil before, then they have already accumulated in high enough concentrations. At the same time they are in the soil in the form of salts that are difficult to absorb through plant roots. BioDeposit will release nutrients to plants and provide roots with an access to them

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