March 13, 2023

Kenya’s key to achieving food security is through a balanced crop nutrition


Agriculture is a key driver of the national economy in Kenya, contributing 33% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and employing over 40% of the population, directly or indirectly.

According to the recent Kenya Economic Update Report by the World Bank, the agriculture sector contracted by 1.5% in the first half of 2022, with the sector contributing almost one-fifth of GDP, its poor performance slowed GDP growth by 0.3%

The main impediment to achieving sustainable food production in Kenya is attributed to lower crop productivity. This is driven by, among others, poor extension systems, low input usage, and climate change since Kenya’s Agriculture is mainly rainfall-dependent.

Further, 80% of the country is considered to be arid and semi-arid, dominated by smallholder farmers thus less arable land for crop production expansion.

The issue of food insecurity has become a cyclic problem. Taking into consideration that 54% of Kenyan household expenditure is on essential food items, households have had to increase their spending to access core staples, such as beans and maize.

The government has underlined the urgent need to catalyze crop productivity, to lower the cost of living.

This will not only build the resilience of farmers’ incomes but also spur rural economies through job creation, and the attainment of food security.

Kenya’s key to achieving food security is through a balanced crop nutrition
MAIZE: Manager Felix Kiili at Komool Farms displays maize crops with full cobs, and uniform seeds from use of Yara East Africa's comprehensive maize fertilizer regime.

At Yara East Africa, through our innovative solutions and knowledge, we play a key role in the effort to close the maize yield gap.

Having conducted over 2,000 soil tests, the reports indicate a widespread deficiency of nutrients like Sulphur and Zinc coupled with acidic soils (which further affect nutrient availability) that then limit the crop yield potential. Soil health, therefore, is a key building block towards increasing crop productivity; hence the reason we champion the use of the right quantity and balance of nutrients and the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices to restore soil health.

By taking the balanced crop nutrition approach, our fertilizer regimes address the nutrient deficiencies in our soils and specific crop nutrient demand.

The traditional maize farmer practice recommends the use of DAP, NP 23-23-0 and CAN fertilizers, which supply only two nutrients (N and P) hence delivering yields of less than 1 tonne per Acre.

Whereas multi-nutrient fertilizers like Yara MiCROP provide up to 6 nutrients (N, P, K, Mg, S, and Zn) in different proportions that address the soil and crop needs, increasing the maize yields by up to 1.4 tonnes in an Acre.

MiCROP Factsheet

The smallholder farmers who have adopted the MiCROP fertilizer like David Onyunde in Siaya county harvest over 22 bags of maize per Acre thus enabling him to be profitable and have progressed to be a private extension agent and retailer of inputs to his neighbors who are keen to follow on his footsteps.

On the other hand, commercial farmers using Yara premium solutions like Philip Ngetich and Florence Cheruiyot in Uasin Gishu county, harvest at least 38 bags of maize per Acre making their farming enterprises a thriving venture.

Both farmers are beneficiaries of Komool centre of excellence, one of the many Yara Knowledge centers across the country, that provides practical training to farmers on best practices throughout the season.

The annual maize deficit in Kenya ranges between 10 to 12 Million bags, this can be closed quickly by ramping up extension systems to address the knowledge gaps and the adoption of multi-nutrient fertilizers.

Where fertilizer regimes provide all the key nutrients to address soil deficiencies and crop needs to achieve the target yield potential.

Based on local research, it is indicative that focusing on improving farmer competence in crop husbandry, and proper use of quality inputs will significantly improve smallholder production levels.

To enhance access to knowledge and quality fertilizers for smallholder farmers, Yara East Africa has invested in various digital solutions to reach millions of farmers.

Through these platforms, farmers can predict weather patterns, apply the correct ratio of fertilizer, and manage pests and diseases. Moreso, we are engaging with more than 200 farmer cooperative societies across various value chains – including maize, potatoes, rice, tea, and coffee. Where we have established learning centers to conduct farmer training, onsite demonstrations, soil analysis, and specific fertilizer recommendations, that have resulted in higher productivity of food and cash crops.

The area under maize crop in Kenya, is about 2 million Hectares. We need to utilize solutions that will increase maize production within this area, to avoid further destruction of forests and natural habitats.

By taking a balanced nutrition approach and applying it to 30% of the current maize cropped area, which will increase yields by 1 Ton in every acre, the additional yield output from this focus acreage shall be 16 million bags thus closing the yield gap.

The government’s proposal of attaining food security and mitigating the adverse effects of climate change through the paradigm shift from rain-fed agriculture to irrigated agricultural production is a key step towards assuring sustainable crop production in the long term. This will enable farmers to produce food all year round, thus providing economic resilience.

These key factors impeding the attainment of food security in our country will require the forging of private-public partnerships to accelerate the implementation of viable solutions in the areas of extension and balanced crop nutrition, amidst the threats of climate change.

Therefore, it’s imperative for the government and private sector to work together in all efforts, if the dream of closing the food security gap is to be fulfilled.

William K. Ngeno is the Country Manager at Yara E.A Ltd

Yara E.A is a subsidiary of Yara International ASA.