In Makueni County, Kibwezi Sub-county, Subsurface Water Retention Technology (SWRT) has greatly changed how crops, especially maize and kales are grown in sandy soils. The installation of subsurface impermeable water‐retaining membranes has enabled smallholder farmers in Makueni County produce maize and kales on sandy soils. The membranes prevent the loss of water and nutrients through natural deep percolation.
With the success of the maize crop on her parcel of land installed with SWRT, Ms. Gladys Musembi decided to venture into kales farming. She prepared a nursery bed of kales and transplanted the seedling to her land.
Ms. Musembi is confident that the growing kales, commonly known as Sukuma Wiki, will enable not only her, but her fellow smallholder farmers in Kibwezi put food on the table and sell some of the kales thus empowering them economically.
“As farmers from this area, we decided to venture into kales farming because Sukuma Wiki is a fast maturing crop and it is highly profitable than regular staple food crops like maize,” said Ms. Musembi.
To ensure that the farmers maximize gains from kales farming, researchers, led by Dr. Sylvia Nyawira and Obadia Mwangi of Alliance Bioversity-CIAT and Dr. Shem Kuyah of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, conducted training on high-end vegetable crops to about 30 smallholder farmers from Kibwezi, August 24, 2022.
Focusing on kales, spinach, watermelon, red onions and tomatoes, the farmers were trained on nursery bed preparation, land preparation and crop management, including watering, fertilization, control of pests and diseases, and harvesting.
The researchers believe that strict adherence to crop management practices like crop nutrition, weed, disease and pest control will ensure the farmers profit from kales farming.
Dr. Nyawira is confident that the technology will work well especially with high-end value crops within the smallholder farmers with sandy soil farms because they have high-value returns.
“The last phase of the project (coming to an end in October 2022) we decide to experiment with a high-value crops and the farmers settled on kales. The beauty with kales is that once they are mature, kale leaves can be harvested for at least three months ensuring that the farmer has vegetables throughout the year,” said Dr. Nyawira.
The training was conducted during a field day, with the support of the Nordic Development Fund, under a project geared towards increasing farm system resilience, crop production and carbon accumulation in sandy soils in Mtito-Andei and Masongaleni wards in Kibwezi Sub-county, Makueni.
The project spearheaded by researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), JKUAT Enterprises Ltd (JKUATES), Alliance Bioversity-CIAT, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), and SWRT Solutions LLC installed soil water retention membranes on 18 farms in the county.