By Anne Munene
After wearing out our knees offering supplications for rains – they are finally here and then they are not.
Even with floods that have brought loss of life and property, there is a brigade of farmers that believe that the rains are not enough to warrant planting.
Because, proper rains always start kitu kama 15th of March and planting early has the risks that you could “loose” seeds! Sawa.
I am not an expert in weather predictions, and I let every farmer choose which rainfall expert they want to hitch their harvest on.
But for those of us in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) – we don’t engage in the real-rain and no-rain debate. Every drizzle is rain and we like to milk it dry with dry planting a.k.a. early planting.
For a country that has food deficit, and even in the bread basket regions of North Rift rains are no longer on the tap, one would think that the farming practices that have made Lengatia successful would be widely adopted by other farmers
For latecomers to ASALs – label me one, we try emulating the work of pioneers such as Lengatia Farm in Naro Moru, who regardless of the advice coming from experts, they are experiential advocates of early planting in ASALs.
And for this they are famous for high yields in wheat, barley, canola and hay in climatic conditions that many consider hostile for farming.
Yes, these pioneer farms are keen on maintaining soil fertility, use of high quality seeds and control of weeds and pests.
Instead of living in the utopia of the mega dams to store run off water for irrigation – think Galana, they improve the structure of their soils so as to retain maximum water and effectively lengthen the window that the soils are moist.
They do all the above and then they plant early, to take maximum advantage of the earliest showers. Beat this.
For a country that has food deficit and even in the bread basket regions of North Rift rains are no longer on the tap, one would think that the farming practices that have made Lengatia successful would be widely adopted by other farmers. And I guess the owners would think this a very well rendered CSR albeit without the photo ops.
If Kenya is going to make an attempt at being self-sufficient in human and livestock feed – we must change the way we farm and start using practices that have been known to work at local level and early planting is one of them
But we don’t give compliments or adopt ideas that fast. At least not before we subtly tear down the farmer’s efforts by throwing the lines of they are lucky, they have money and machinery, they have huge tracks of land and when all else fails we pull the racial card.
On the money line – we will even pay for agri-tours to desert countries to go and learn how they farm! Learn, in a week of hop-scotch packed itinerary? Sorry teacher – I am out, I was a slow student.
Good people, if we can’t learn from successful farms that are in our backyards, what is the magic wand that these agri-tours are supposed to wave? Should we therefore not brand them as leisure trips?
This is not sour grapes; I am a big believer in farmers getting time off from the farm – so there is nothing wrong with the trips.
…crops that are planted early have a longer window to take advantage of the rains and soil nutrients (e.g. fertilizers), resulting to higher yield than those that are planted late
If Kenya is serious at being self-sufficient in human and livestock feed – we must change the way we farm and start using practices that have been known to work at local level and early planting is one of them.
To start with all things being constant, crops that are planted early have a longer window to take advantage of the rains and soil nutrients (e.g. fertilizers), resulting to higher yield than those that are planted late.
Secondly, farmers who plant early will more likely have prepared their land well and at a lower cost, than those who do a speed dash during rains.
As much as I would want to concede to the anti-early planting brigade that there is a potential of incurring loses should the rains anyway fail, this argument along with the line of further research, conferences and policy papers would lock us up in the state of inertia – a luxury that a hungry nation does not have
Also add on the fact that there is less damage to the soils when dry planting. A rider to this – the use and efficiency of mechanical implements in the farm is reduced or totally eliminated with rains.
Early planters are also more likely to plant their preferred seeds and have enough time to accommodate any shortage of inputs.
Last but not least, crops that are planted early have better tolerance (resistance) to weeds and pests and consequently they have better yields.
As much as I would want to concede to the anti-early planting brigade that there is a potential of incurring loses should the rains anyway fail, this argument along the line of further research, conferences and policy papers would lock us up in the state of inertia – a luxury that a hungry nation does not have.
For anyone who may still be waiting for the “right” date to plant – consider this:
The African culture, which we often take refuge of, put lot of premium on early planting.
During harvesting, communities deliberately left seeds in the ground which provided the early crop that bridged the food deficit gap before the main harvest. To the Kikuyus – this life saving harvest was (and still is) maitika.
If it worked then, how much more can it work if we boost it up with high yielding seeds and the use of fertilizers?
- Biologically, nature in self preservation always disperses her seeds way before the rains. This is how weeds are dispersed and no wonder they germinate with the first rains – as we debate if the rains are enough for planting crops.
- To the Good Book – the parable of the sower should make any doubting Thomas change their planting ways. Your seeds have to be on good soils – which you only get if you took time (early) to prepare the land and you will be rewarded multiple times of what you have sown.
- Finally back to the leisure trips, the best time to schedule one is when you have done planting early. Talking of which my fodder seeds were down in late Feb and since the farm is inaccessible due to floods, any trip ideas are welcome.
Make Kenya food secure, plant early.
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Anne Munene is the founding manager of Lukuai Hay Farm in Laikipia North. She has helped to convert the 462 acres overgrazed and degraded arid land to a model hay farm supplying hay to several counties in Kenya. A thought leader in grasslands rehabilitation in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) in Kenya, she is an experiential advocate of minimum tillage and over-seeding in the reclamation of denuded and overgrazed range lands.