3 October 2005

Kenya: World's Farm Experts Discuss New Approach

Nairobi — Farmers and agricultural experts from all over the world meet in Nairobi for a week starting today to discuss a new farming method that could greatly reduce production costs.

The world congress on conservation agriculture will lobby farmers to grow crops by breaking the soil only at the point of planting instead of ploughing the whole land to reduce costs.

Moody Awori

The new farming technique called conservation agriculture reduces soil erosion and enhance water sustenance, the congress organising committee chairman Edward Chuma said.

It also requires little labour as the farmers would not till the whole land under spaced crops like maize.

Mr Chuma, who is the head of the African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT) based in Harare, Zimbabwe, is among officials picked to organise the function jointly with Kenya's Agriculture ministry headquarters. Mr Martin Bwalya, ACT's regional manager, heads the secretariat, while deputy agriculture director, Mr William Kerario, leads the ministry team.

Mr Bwalya said about 500 delegates from more than 60 countries are expected to attend the meeting at Safari Park Hotel. It is organised by the Kenyan government and ACT.

Kenya's Vice-President Moody Awori is expected to open the congress, whose theme is Linking Production, Livelihoods and Conservation.

Mr Bwalya said African governments had been concerned that crop yields had been declining over the years even with the increased use of modern farming technology, machines and chemicals.

"We have been using better seeds, chemicals, fertiliser and even equipment in our farms, yet there is no corresponding increase in yields," he said at Kilimo House last week.

He argued that the poor harvests were caused by increased soil disturbance through mechanised ploughing.

Mr Bwalya said increased tillage had exposed the soils to excessive heat, which hardened them.

"This also makes water run on the surface. And a drought for a few days makes our crops wither," he said, adding that the practice disturbed natural processes in the resource.

He proposed that African States urge their farmers to practice crop rotation, and regretted that some important traditional farming methods had been ignored in the continent.

He cited a practice in which traditional farmers abandoned land after harvest seasons and returned to it a few years later, after regaining fertility.

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