Fast-tracking innovations to boost productivity in Agriculture

The agricultural revolution famously Agrarian Revolution was the first kind that saw the world changing and scaling up innovations to be the most labor-absorbing sector. We are still facing vast drawbacks in sufficiently feeding the world’s ever-growing population and breakthrough unprecedented shocks such as climate change, conflicts, and economic inflations

Despite the pioneering revolution, we are still probing for more innovations to keep up with technology to make agriculture more attractive, feasible to practice, and most importantly to meet the overriding food demands.

Potentials to combat food insecurity and revitalize climate change impacts are deeply rooted in how conveniently information on available technologies is shared with farmers and the adoption scaled from one generation to another.

What is really motivating is how we are not immune to the technological revolution. We are embracing the infinite innovations and inventions that are making agriculture and the food systems more resilient and work where it was not anticipated.

KALRO-Kabete Field Day which happened on the 9th and 10th of December, 2022 was an agricultural vehicle for learning and exhibiting milestones in agriculture research and innovation.   Below are some wealth-worth expert insights from the event that are major boast to the food system:

Soil mapping, profiling, and testing

Soil mapping is one of the major factors to consider for farming precision that can guide in choosing a value chain to grow in a particular region. It is a geographical representation that uses remote sensing to show the diversity of soil types and /or areas of interest. It is able to guide soil texture, pH, a range of macro and micronutrients, and the crops that suites particular soil types with agro-climatic backing.

It is imperative for farmers to understand soil profiles before settling on a particular value chain. It is an important tool in managing soil nutrients and determining the types of crops to be planted based on the rooting system. It may take more than 100,000 years to develop. Liming is desirable in neutralizing soil acidity and improving crop income.

 To be sure about the poor performance of the farm in terms of yields it is advisable for soil testing to be done to know the source of the problem.

It indicates soil profiles, the presence of disease vectors, and nutrient levels, which guide the fertilizers’ specificity to use, amount and frequency application, disease control measures, and the crops’ value chain to plant. 

Soil testing saves the farmers from rushing to spend on futile solutions for their farms’ problems.

Field Demonstrations showed that under-application of fertilizers affected crop lifespan of the crop from tender age while overapplication of the same overburdens the crops leading to crop failure and low yields despite irrigation. “Disease attack to crops cause crop failure despite soil being fertile and doing irrigation,” KALRO Crop Clinic.

Pesticide usage

The excessive use of pesticides is raising food safety concerns such as residues. There is a need to shift to biological controls.

“Marigolds can be planted at the edges of the farm to control pests. The marigold has a scent that attracts pests, keeping them off the crops. This is a safe and cost-effective way to control pests.” narrates Musyoki, a Grade 6 pupil from Ndurarua Primary School.

Why practice farm hygiene

Farm culture practices such as keeping farms clean reduce crops’ susceptibility to diseases and the spread of pest infestation. Weed control for instance reduces competition for nutrients, which, at the apex, increases growth rate, the health of crops, and yields per unit of land. Timely weeding and minimum tillage are some of the cultures to adopt in this regard.

Technology and innovation corner

It has been appraised more than once that technology is the seasoned caravan that helps us break through to a food-secure destination. There was a lot of technology in the exhibition. We will just highlight a few.

Solar-driven drip irrigation is cost-friendly to manage and conserves water. The solar panel generates a current that powers the pump to distribute water around the irrigation pipes. This technology is actually clean energy and the right definition of the green economy.

Hydroponics is another interesting innovation on the rise, especially in urban and peri-urban farming. It is done in vertical gardens that require small spaces. One can innovatively use waste plastics to hold the crops while at the same time helping to clean up the environment. 

Read: It Takes a Digital Village to Improve Smallholders’ Productivity and Resilience.

The agricultural sector is harnessing the power of Value additions as a way of developing convenient food products that not only have a long shelf life but also retain nutritional value, and taste with tenfold returns. 

The value chains include vegetables, bananas, and fruits such as avocados, mangos, oranges, and avocadoes. Drying reduces enzyme activities that are responsible for the quick deterioration of mentioned produce. Substrate movement to the enzymes is inhibited making them denature or inactive.

Farmers can access disease-free plantlets courtesy of tissue cultures that are high-yielding, have shorter maturity periods, and have uniformity in growth. 

Also Read: Tissue Culture Bananas

These are desirable traits that more than 80% of farmers want. This technology has the capacity to increase our national food stores if sufficiently adopted and it is feasible for both small and large scale farming.

Diversifying in production is key

Farm partitioning helps farmers to practice crop rotation that comes with a share of benefits such as pests and disease control, sustained farm productivity, contribution to carbon sequestration, widening income avenues upon commercialization of the products, and improved food and nutrition security. 

This is not tied to large-scale farming. Smallholder farmers can also partition their farms to host up to five crop value chains depending on the size of the land. Diversifying farming, especially vegetables works greatly curbing hidden hunger( caused by micronutrient deficiencies).

Monocropping significantly lowers farm fertility and burdens crop disease control measures. An expert from the soil clinic explained that a land that has lost fertility takes a couple of years to regain its productivity and farmers need to be vigilant about how they do farming practices and strive to avoid losing humus.

Planting high-returning crops 

As we face hunger pangs, there are workable solutions for this. Drought-resistant crops that take short time to mature are one of the possible primary ways to break through seasonal gaps in food production, especially in ASAL areas. 

Farmers in arable lands need to plant crops that take at least one and a half months to two months to be ready for harvesting and market. Even for the main staples such as maize, there are varieties that have short maturity times and can be planted during the off-season periods. Legumes have a short maturity time with a high market value in the case of Kenyan markets.

The more a farmer has a high frequency of harvesting from the farm the more they are able to earn substantially. Another trick is to plant crops that meet the qualities of a specific market. For instance, focusing on the Irish potato variety for potato crisps is likely to have great returns because of less market competition

Musyoki also witnessed that planting crops such as Chinese cabbage has been beneficial to their school project. The cabbage takes about two and a half months to mature and harvest. One goes at Ksh 100 per cabbage compared to normal cabbage that goes at Ksh 30 in Kenyan markets. He adds that organically produced prices go up to Ksh 200 and admits that through knowledge sharing, farmers can be more precise in choosing value chains that will make them enjoy returns from hard toil on farms.

Understanding the nutritional value of crops one is producing is advantageous as it gives the farmer purpose and motivation to keep on farming with the goal of making their household and larger communities nutritionally adequate and healthy.

In a nutshell, there are more opportunities in agriculture and nutrition. The Agrarian Revolution is still on. It is true that the uptake of technology in agriculture is still lagging because of cultural/social competition and sometimes its enormity only works for certain crop value chains not targeted to farmer needs, limited extensions, and high cost of some innovation.

Assessing the above innovations, they have unmatched potential to alleviate hunger and poverty when successfully synched into our food systems through sustainable farmers’ support. “Smallholder farmers can only succeed if information about topical issues like pest management, improved seeds, and soil management is disseminated in a language they understand.” as Mr. Peter Randa who was in attendance puts it.

There is a great opportunity to forge collaborations between government, Development partners, NGOs, researchers, Private sectors, and farmers in narrowing the gap in acquisition the of agricultural innovations. It is time to implement.