Towards Provision of Adequate Food in Makueni County

Stakeholders showed maize grown on SWRT membranes, combined with irrigation during the dry season in Ulilinzi, Makueni

To grow healthy crops, farmers need just the right mix of sun, rain, and warmth—all of which are becoming more unpredictable with climate change. Encompassed with bimodal rainfall and sandy soil, Makueni County agricultural productivity has been adversely affected.

This has exposed smallholder farmers, who depend on farming, to frequent crop failure, reduced agricultural yields hence limited alternatives economic activities to better their livelihood.

To curb this, 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, carried out a project to increase farm system resilience, crop production and carbon accumulation in sandy soils in the county.

With the support of the Nordic Development Fund, the project installed soil water retention membranes in 19 farms across the county.

“We are using an innovation called Subsurface Water Retention Technology (SWRT) as one of the most effective technologies for combating climate-related risks among smallholder farmers in Makueni,” elucidates Dr. Shem Kuyah.

According to Dr. Kuyah, to increase agricultural productivity in the county, Makueni requires interventions that build the resilience of farming systems by increasing their capacity to hold water, retain nutrients and moderate microclimate.

SWRT involves the installation of engineered impermeable U-shaped polymer membranes that retain much of the water added to the soil surface by rainfall or irrigation for prolonged periods and prevents loss of nutrients through water percolation.

“Demonstrations in Makueni show that installation of SWRT membranes in sandy soils can increase crop yield and biomass production,” said Dr. Kuyah.

He posits that this hold benefits for both food security and climate protection, especially if the biomass produced is retained in the field as animal manure.

To increase agricultural yields in the 19 farms, the project, on top of the SWRT are also utilising irrigation methods due to the unpredictable bimodal rainfall in the County.

“Installation of SWRT membranes, combined with irrigation diversifies production, permit a three-season farming cycle which allows the production of high-value crops” explains Dr. Kuyah.

To spread the gospel of the technology, the project dubbed ‘Solution for Increasing Farming System Resilience and Carbon Sinks on Sandy Soils’ organised a two-day workshop, which provided a platform for connecting stakeholders within the project and in the food value chains.

The workshop held in Makueni County recently informed stakeholders about SWRT innovation, its merits and business opportunities. It also allowed stakeholders to know how they can contribute to the uptake of the innovation and the business around it.

The project, deemed to improve the agricultural index of Makueni County, is spearheaded by Dr. Shem Kuyah (JKUAT), Dr. Winifred Karugu (JKUATES), Dr. Sylvia Nyawira and Dr. Stanley Karanja (The Alliance Bioversity-CIAT), Prof. Alvin Smucker (SWRT SOLUTIONS LLC.) and Dr. Libère Nkurunziza (SLU).

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