Farmers in Makueni Reap from Soil Water Retention Technology

Side by side comparison of where the technology was utilized (right) and a normal corn field in the same farm.

Farmers in Makueni County are now reaping huge benefits from a pilot agricultural innovation project that has been rolled out in the rain-starved area. The innovation has proven to increase yields between 3-5 times during a single harvest season.

The innovative technology is a Michigan State University engineered and scientifically tested water conservation soil root zone optimizing approach that dramatically increases crop production system requiring less water.  

According to project experts, the effects brought about by the Subsurface Water Retention Technology (SWRT) on yield production, is not a fluke, and what farmers are experiencing in Makueni County is only a tip of the ice berg.

The President and Founder of SWRT Solutions, Prof. Alvin Smucker, has revealed that research into the technology has proven to increase yield by 250% and 700% respectively, when the technology is jointly used with irrigation.

Prof. Alvin revealed that the technology which is yet to hit the Kenyan market, has been researched for over 20 years and tested in 16 countries on a large scale. He added that the polythene membranes can last more than 50 years on the ground.

Prof. Alvin (left) and local farmers examine a corn in one of the farms where the SWRT was utilized

The project, a collaboration between Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Swedish University of Agriculture, SWRT Solutions Inc., The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and JKUAT Enterprises Limited (JKUATES), is funded by Nordic Climate Facility.

JKUATES is developing a business plan to commercialize the SWRT which is proving to be popular among the farmers in Makueni County.

Speaking during a field visit to the trial farms in Makueni County on Friday, February 11, 2022, the Principal Investigator of the Project, Prof. Prof. Libère Nkurunziza of Swedish University of Agriculture, thanked farmers for embracing the technology and allowing researchers to use their farms for demonstrations.

Prof. Libère lauded the farmers for the close working relationship through the project noting that the rapport will ensure that the project is a success.

A section of the research team during the farmers forum in Makueni County.

“Working together is an opportunity to single out imperfections in the research and make improvements to ensure that the project is a success,” said Prof. Libère.

He added that the research will contribute towards food security not only in Makueni but also in the country.

The farming groups present during the field visit all agreed that the technology is a step towards agricultural sustainability in the area.

They expressed their eagerness to adopt the technology on a large scale as soon as it is available in the market.

While explaining the role of JKUATES in the Project, Managing Director, Dr. Winifred Karugu, said they will work closely with all the project stakeholders to ensure the research benefits the intended niche.

Dr. Karanja (left) responds to questions from farmers during the Question and Answer session.

“JKUATES has been tasked with providing support services and logistics for the project. We are also tasked with developing a business model beyond the life of the project that will involve linkages among the different players in this ecosystem including farmers, SWRT manufacturers, agro-vet stores, suppliers of irrigation equipment, and micro-financiers among others,” said Dr. Karugu.

Mr. Silas Musei, a PhD student at JKUAT under the project, expressed his gratitude, adding that he has accrued a wealth of valuable experience in the project while working with the professors in the field.

Other members playing key research roles in the research are Dr. Shem Kuyah of JKUAT, Dr. Stanley Karanja and Dr. Sylvia Nyawira both from CIAT, Project Assistant, Eunice Mutuku and Jemimah Kanani who is working on the development of business with both the farmers and other stakeholders.

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