Take care of your soil to increase land productivity

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Farmers rarely take care of their soils. Good farming practices can restore and build soil fertility, increasing crop yields and income for the farmer.

Soil fertility is the ability of the soil to support agricultural production by providing all essential nutrients for the crops to grow and yield bumper harvest in form and suitable balance that are available for plant uptake. On the other hand, land productivity is dependent on several factors such as soil fertility, good management practices, water availability and suitable climate. Fertile soils, contain an adequate supply of nutrients, sufficient content of organic matter, a proper balance of soil pH, water draining and retention capacity, active soil life and a good soil structure.  Proper balance of the nutrients and other factors in the soil are important for the soil to be highly productive.

Various factors lead to the loss of soil fertility. Below are some of these factors and the proposed ways of mitigating them.

Soil erosion

The top soil is rich in nutrients and organic matter which are important for soil health. These nutrients can be lost through the soil erosion is very common in many regions in Kenya. It can occur because of human activities such as deforestation, overgrazing and poor soil management. Besides human activities, other agents such as wind and water through floods leads to the loss of the fertile top soil. Planting cover vegetation, mulching, retaining walls around areas of erosion to prevent runoff water, leaving crop residues lying on the soil, mixed cropping and intercropping, practising minimum cultivation, early planting among others can prevent soil erosion.

Nutrient mining

This is as a result of the removal of more nutrients by crops and no adequate replenishing by use of manures or fertilizers leading to depletion of the soil nutrients. Physical degradation of the soil (poor structure, compaction, crusting and water logging e.t.c) are some of these factors that come about as a result of poor management practices e.g. poor tillage (ploughing, weeding, etc) techniques which may cause the development of hard pans that limit water infiltration. Also, poor land use planning such as failure to integrate intercropping systems and crop rotation leads to the physical degradation of soils. Water-logging causes loss of nitrogen into the air.

Decrease in organic matter content and soil bioactivity

A decrease in soil organic matter results in poor physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. Soil bioactivity or microbial activity is dependent on soil organic matter and as a result, plays a significant role in nutrient availability and recycling.

Soil acidification, salinization, alkalinity

All the above factors cause a reduction in soil fertility and eventually problems of nutrient deficiencies, toxicities and imbalances. Inefficient soil management Monocropping practices (planting only one type of crop every year) and improper crop rotation practices lead to decline in soil fertility as it results in depletion of various nutrients.

Also, excessive soil tillage will lead to erosion which results in decreased soil fertility and productivity in general. Soil pollution This comes about as a result of introduction of chemicals and heavy metals into the soil through the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers. Hence, the growth of useful soil organisms is adversely affected, which eventually causes a decline in biological soil fertility.

Land fragmentation

This refers to the subdivision of land to create settlement areas for the rapidly growing population especially in the high potential areas (areas with good rainfall and soils). As a result, the size of agricultural land is decreased and productivity, in general, is lowered.

Inadequate extension services and infrastructure

When there isn’t enough back up from the extension agents and the only available infrastructure is poorly maintained; there is lack of motivation to invest in soil fertility improvement.

How to maintain soil fertility

Using organic manure

Soil organic matter is very important in soil fertility and productivity.Organic matter is important in physical soil structure thereby improving drainage of water, infiltration of the water into the soil, aeration and water holding capacity.

No-till farming

This can also be referred to as conservation agriculture. It leaves the soil undisturbed, allows residues on the surface of the ground to naturally decompose and build more top soil to minimize erosion. It also makes it easier to manage weeds.

Planting cover crops

Cover crops while maintaining soil moisture also helps prevent soil erosion and puts nutrients back into the soil, keeping it fertile, more sustainable thus contributing to better harvests.

Precision agriculture

Precision agriculture is whereby real-time data on the conditions of the crops, soil, air as well as other local weather predictions are obtained using information technology (IT). Farmers can use mobile software applications to monitor their fields and maximize their harvests. For this service contact Soil Cares Africa, Tel. 0706 511149.

Adopting improved methods of tillage

These while including conservation tillage methods such as reduced/minimum/no tillage also include direct drilling and strip cropping. These methods are widely recommended to protect against soil erosion and degradation of structure, creating greater aggregate stability and increasing soil organic matter.

Promoting agroforestry

Agroforestry involves the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits. Agroforestry reduces the need to use soil nutrients and fertilizers by improving soil quality and maintaining good nutritional balance and fertility.

Developing and applying suitable crop rotations

Crop rotation involves growing different types of crops in the same area. This is done to replenish and balance the nutrients in the soil. This helps also to reduce soil erosion, increasing soil fertility and crop yields.

For more on soil management http://www.infonet-biovision. org/soil_management

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