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SIMLESA farmers from western and eastern Kenya share their experiences

IMG_5380A delegation of 20 farmers, research technicians, and Ministry of Agriculture officials from western Kenya visited their counterparts in eastern Kenya during 12-13 June 2012 to learn and share their experiences with implementing Sustainable Intensification of Maize- Legume based Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project. Before meeting their counterparts, the visiting farmers toured on-station SIMLESA trials at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI-Embu) where Charles Mugo, KARI technician, took them through the various trials and treatments: maize and beans under minimum tillage, bean under conventional tillage, bean under minimum tillage, bean under furrow and ridge tillage, and maize and bean under furrows and ridges.

The farmers had a chance to see trials addressing the livestockresidue retention conflict among the mixed farming communities. SIMLESA has partnered with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to try out alternative fodder species. Treatments under these trials include retaining all, half, or a quarter of the residues on each plot, and intercropping the maize with Desmodium to fix nitrogen in the soil and provide animal feed.

The performance of the on-station trials and a visit to the Kyeni Innovation Platform in Embu County encouraged the farmers to scale out conservation agriculture (CA). “They are able to conserve water, especially in this area characterized by low, scarce and erratic rainfall. It has not rained for almost one and a half month in the area,” said Teresa Maitha Njiru, a member of the Kyeni Innovation Platform, explaining why her crops were robust, particularly those under furrows and ridges. Njiru, who has been practicing CA for the last four cropping seasons, hailed the practice for its productivity, environmental friendliness, and cost effectiveness. Above all, she appreciated that it is not labor-intensive. “Hakuna Kazi hapa, there is no work here,” she said, referring to the little time required to prepare and manage a CA plot. “And I only spray three days after planting for weed control,” she added.

The furrows and ridges technology stood out also for Titus Miriti from Chuka. “Ridges and furrows technology has the greatest and best effect on crop performance and the greatest benefit because this area is arid. It is very good in water retention,” Miriti pointed out, stating that CA is much more rewarding than the conventional practice.

Benson Nyakundi, technician at KARI-Kakemega and trip coordinator, noted that the CA technologies were important in boosting food security in Kenya. “New technologies like these being implemented by SIMLESA are critical in fighting food insecurity that is rampant in the country.” Lorna Oketch, Siaya County agricultural officer, praised SIMLESA for making extension services and providers a part of the project implementation team. “This will go a long way in sustaining the project even beyond the project timeframe.” The exchange visit was organized and facilitated by John Achieng and Alfred Micheni, SIMLESA site coordinators for western and eastern Kenya, respectively.