Improving food production using ‘best bet’ soil fertility technologies in the Central highlands of Kenya
Mugendi, Daniel N.
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Declining crop productivity is a major challenge facing smallholder farmers in central highlands of Kenya. This decline is caused by continuous cultivation of soils without adequate addition of external inputs in form of manures and fertilizers. With this background, an on-station trial was initiated at Embu in 1992 to evaluate the feasibility of using two leguminous shrubs; Calliandra calothyrsus and Leucaena leucocephala for improving food production. In 2000, an off-station farmers’ participatory trial aimed at offering farmers soil enhancing technologies for replenishing soil fertility was established in Meru South District. The results from the Embu on-station trial indicate that, over the 11 years of study, calliandra and leucaena biomass transfer with half recommended rate of inorganic fertilizer treatments gave the best average maize grain yields of 3.3 Mg ha-1. Treatment where calliandra was alley cropped with maize but the prunings removed recorded the lowest maize yield of 1.2 Mg ha-1. Treatments with calliandra and leucana biomass transfer had similar yields but treatments that were alley cropped with leucaena did better than those that were alley cropped with calliandra. On the other hand, results from the off-station trial in Meru South indicate that, on average, across the seven seasons, sole tithonia gave the highest maize grain yield followed closely by tithonia with half recommended rate of inorganic fertilizer with 6.4 and 6.3 Mg ha-1 respectively. Control gave the lowest yield of 2.2 Mg ha-1 across the seasons. On average, integration of organic an inorganic sources of nutrients gave higher yields compared to all the other treatments.