East Africa’s tractor sharing platform, TingA, has asked farmers to embrace conservation farming in order to improve harvests and soil fertility.
According to the firm, this type of farming lessens land preparation costs by 60% while maintaining soil fertility and conserving water.
The equipment renter says that conservation farming has the potential to enhance food security and improve livelihood through increased and stabilised productivity and sustainable land management (SLM). One of the best conservation farming methods that the firm advocates for is chiselling.
Statistics show that farmers that have embraced chiselling compared to those who use disc plough have been able to shun the losses that arise due to land preparation.
Pundits say that the improved yields have been contributed by the fact that chisel plough is able to get deeper in the soil with minimal soil interference. Experts acknowledge that chisel plough loosens and aerate the soils while leaving crop residue at top of the soil better than the disc plough.
Farmers who have used both Chisel and disc plough appreciate that the former reduces effects of compaction and break up the plough pan and hardpan unlike the latter especially when heavy farm equipment, such as tractors compact the sub-soil producing compaction coating.
This problem is common on clay soils as compared to sandy soils. A hardpan obstructs drainage, triggering water logging, poor growth of useful bacteria, and poor root development, which subsequently leads to poor crops growth and poor quality roots. This characteristic has made it a favourite as it reduces erosion and increases soil fertility since it keeps the organic matter vital to the soil productiveness without interruption.
Lack of proper land preparation has been a thorny issue in Africa as it causes massive losses and therefore costings farmers billions of shillings every season as 70% of work is done during the land preparation.
While training farmers in Narok West, the TingA Potato Manager, Consolata Wangui said, “With chiselling, farmers are able to produce more food more reliably using the same rates of fertilizers and reduce labour by up to 50%. Any given kind of crop grows well and produces better yields in well-prepared soil. We encourage farmers to use a chisel plough as it slackens and aerates the soil with little disturbance as it reduces the effect of compaction and prevents the formation of surface crusts, which helps water to infiltrate the soil. With this, the water will run in the direction of the growing crop where it is required and consequently guarantees better yields.
Good soil preparation incorporates exclusion or amalgamation of crop wreckage and any shrubbery that may compete with the crop.
A chisel plough is able to penetrate, break up and level soil even over rocky, hard or wetland, unlike the normal plough. The chisel plough performs the initial loosening of the soil while leaving the trash on top. Unlike the disc plough that reverts organic matter from building on the soil, chisel keeps the organic matter from the soil and lessens soil erosion. Farmers also prefer it as it preserves soil moisture or droughty soil, unlike the disc plough.
“Disc plough has been for ages but since farmers recognised that the chisel plough is more cost-effective and faster they are now embracing it for various reasons. One of the major reasons for its adoption is that it can be adjusted to till deep or shallow and it does not invert the soil profile. It is usually set at 8’ to 12’ deep. The maximum depth is 18’,” she added.
John Kilinka a farmer in Narok said that they prefer the chisel because it best for furrow irrigation or poorly drained soil since it warms ridges up and dries them up rapidly unlike the plough that disturbs the soil and therefore reduces soil temperatures so corn and soya beans get off to a slower start. Such disturbances lower down the germination of crops since the seedbed may be rougher.
Research shows that the less disturbed soil is more productive. Preservation cultivation maintains a farm into a condition that permits the soils to gather and preserve all the humidity and rainwater that is available what soil expert’s term as “Putting Rain in the Bank”. This helps the farms produce good yields even during the less rainy and drier seasons because this type of cultivation preserves the moisture a condition that is necessary for better yields.
Unlike the other ploughs, the chisel turns over the topsoil and slacken the trampled soil below, to achieve a good gradient for forming the hills or ridges, and provide a soft, uniform medium where storage root growth is not impeded. Slackening the soil upsurges the oxygen capacity, which conditions the growth of microorganisms that decompose organic matter. Proper land cultivation also helps control weeds.
The firm has been aiding farmers in various parts of the country to mechanize their farms from land preparation, tillage, ploughing, weeding all the way to harvesting with no manual work involved. This has led to a 300% harvest increase and a 90% decrease in post-harvest losses.