Soil Health

Higher income, healthier soil: Kenyan farmers capitalise on soybean

In Kenya, soya is proving both a lucrative commercial crop and a remedy for tired soils. A thousand farmers from Mumias District in Western Kenya were first introduced to the leguminous crop by CIAT researchers carrying out soil analysis and soya trials in 2006 – since when production has boomed.

Author: Julius Omondi. Source: FarmBizAfrica

Soya bean is positioning itself as a lucrative commercial crop in Mumias with over 1000 farmers cultivating it thanks to empowerment by research groups and ready market from Promassidor. The  leguminous crop is also being hailed as a remedy to the soils that have become tired due to over use.

Organized under Mumias District Federation of Soya beans Farmers group (MUDESOF), the budding farmers were first introduced to the lucrative crop in 2006 by research and development projects under International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The researchers were carrying out soil analysis and trial of various seeds of which Soya was outstanding. Little did the farmers know that coming on board as good Samaritans to the stranger researchers will eventually change their fortunes and water their pockets

As Stephen Kasamani the leader of the group noted, “We volunteered to help the researchers in their quest for inquiries of the traits and variations in seeds and soils. We provided the land for trials, managed them and kept records like planting date and maturity periods.”

Due to the farmers’ goodwill and passion to see the success of the research projects, the development partners in return started providing them with knowledge, farm inputs, seeds, resource centres and even funds to empower more farmers in reach out programmes. Most farmers settled for the Soya and the trial farms gradually turned into seed multiplication centres.

According to Kasamani, Soya was already being grown by various farmers in the region although on a small scale.

Therefore the introduction of better seed varieties, farm inputs and knowledge on better farming methods just endeared the crop to more farmers and even increased the acreage under it. Initially we never bothered about certified seeds and seed properties. But through the help of CIAT we realized the importance of all these factors and settled to the more nutritious and most sought after variety of SB 19.

Due to the steady increase in number of farmers adopting the crop, the production eventually subdued the farmers’ consumption and small-scale local markets.

Having helped them in their initial research and studies, Kasamani noted that CIAT sourced for them a lucrative market through bringing on board of Promassidor in 2011.

“Their coming on board almost made the crop go viral because of their lucrative prices and capability of having two harvests per year as opposed to sugarcane which for a while has been fronted as the only viable cash crop.” Imagine being able to harvest and cash in soya twice a year while Sugarcane can only be harvested once in two years.

To him, this was just a jackpot deal that many farmers could not let go. Apart from providing farmers competitive prices, the company also provided transport facilities to the group and initially supported with all the farm inputs.

Although it sounded like a jackpot, Kasamani advised that the crop needed dedication from the part of the farmers.

Unlike sugarcane, where millers like Mumias Sugar Company will provide almost everything for the farmer right from land preparation, providing of fertilizer, seeds, harvesting and transport; with soya, all these inputs directly comes from the farmer. “I always advise many of the new farmers that the crop is not meant for lazy farmers but the proceeds from it are sweeter because there will be no exorbitant deductions that cane farmers experience. In fact sometimes cane farmers with little land almost get zero returns after harvests and instead they remain with company debts because the investments were much higher than the outputs.

“With Soya what you harvest is all yours”, added Kasamani.

Currently the group attracts farmers from Mumias, Matungu and the border districts of Kakamega, Siaya and Butere. Although the crop still experience competition from other established stable crops like maize, on average, over 600 acres are under Soya cultivation per season.

The crop is also helping in the fixation of nitrogen in their farms and some farmers are now adopting crop rotation to maximize returns from its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil.

In the long rain periods, some farmers intercrop the crop with maize but in the subsequent shorter rain period, most farmers opt for Soya hence the crop has positioned itself as a preferred and profitable choice for rotational farming. Rotating the crop fixes the poor soils and many maize farmers who plant maize after harvesting Soya are registering about 50 percent increase in yields.

Iddi Makokha is one of the group member who has mastered the art rotating Soya bean with maize, a practice that the father of five have never regretted since its’ adoption.

“Initially, in an acre I used to acquire about 13-15 bags even after upholding  all the best husbandry methods, however, the script changed for good after introduction of Soya in my farm. I first planted it with caution just on a little portion but when I planted maize the following season on the same portion, the one acre gave me five more bags. Out of excitement, there was no way I could not put all my four acres under Soya and currently I rotate Soya and Maize, a move that has not only enabled me feed my family but also get income from the sale of the surplus harvest,” explained Iddi.

The main group has smaller commercial village groups with farmers in order to ensure easy organization. The smaller commercial village groups are further organized into their own constitution and help farmers to acquire farm inputs and financing from financial institutions. According to Kasamani, “The organization into smaller village groups also enables us train the farmers easily and above all, their membership into the group also enables them to get personal loans from banks.”

As a result of their clear chain of command, Promassidor has partnered with Equity bank and recommend the farmers for personal loans. David Inyani Supply Chain Manager from the Promassidor explained that they are focused towards uplifting farmers’ livelihoods and will always work towards that.

“We are concerned with farmers’ welfare and believe that an empowered farmer will even provide us with both the raw material, market and be a good brand ambassador hence having a healthy nation. Therefore, we are using our contacts in the business sector to uplift them.”

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