A team of researchers are worried that smallholder farmers in Western Kenya lack skills on the use of farms inputs donated to them. This has led to low food production in the areas despite frequent incentives or subsidies provided to them.

The team of researchers are drawn from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and University of Leeds. The research focused on ‘sustainable land management practices’ by smallholder farmers in Siaya, Bungoma and Kakamega Counties.

Dr Philip Osano, Director of Stockholm Environment Institute – Africa Centre said the study targeted farmers with a least three to five acres piece of land. He however stated, subsidies normally provided to the farmers do not meet immediate needs.

“We discovered while soils have different levels of acidity and base, farmers applied a uniform type of commercial fertilizer provided hence minimal returns,” Dr Osano explained.

The researchers now recommend subsidy schemes being provided to the farmers to target easy-wins such as locally available manure. The review to incentives provision would boost agricultural output for farmers and ensure sustainable yield production.

“During the research, we found out that promoting widespread use of locally available manure has a potential to increase production up to six times,” he asserted.

Farmers also recommended that incentives be focused on their competitiveness in the market. The farmers lamented that bureaucracy was an impediment to a free-flow of information and policies needed to improve quality farming practices. It bars them from adaptable management technologies and practices.

Dr Osano regretted that such information gaps were affecting agricultural productivity. For instance, lack of facts on soil types, acidity and alkalinity levels, existing soil fertility level and nutrients suitable for a particular crop.

Although farmers know the importance of soil testing, many claimed they lack money to undertake such procedures. Again poor record keeping of the farm activities and production, is major concern in the areas.

Many farmers operate on an average of 0.5 to 2 ha piece of land and grow maize, beans, sugarcanes, millet, sorghum, groundnuts and bananas. Majority are not aware how other costs related to crop farming affect their profits.

Farmers ought to form groups to act as accessibility channels during policy making and training on modern agricultural methods and technologies.

According to the researchers in the long run, some of the technologies and practices require high upfront investments. Therefore, would need compensation if farmers were to adopt them. However, once farmers apply such modern techniques, the benefits are adequate for a longer time.

These policies are important in other practices such as in agroforestry and in physical terraces. To encourage farmers to implement them, there should be compensation on the costs incurred. It could be organized through subsidy schemes for ecosystem services.