Visit to the B4SS project in Kapsabet, Kenya (April 2017)

In April 2017, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa and Edmundo Barrios, coordinator of the B4SS in Kenya, visited the project site near Kapsabet, Nandi Country, Western Kenya. David Lelei (ICRAF) and Henry, the local leading farmer, welcomed us at the B4SS demonstration site. David and Henry have collaborated with the farmers in the establishment of the field trials. Their work has been essential to explain the farmers the benefits and potential risks of applying biochar to their farms. Thanks to these champions, the B4SS project in Kenya is making good progress.

During the participatory workshop, the farmers selected the types of treatments and two main crops: maize and beans. The most common treatments applied at the farmers’ fields are: 1) control (no fertiliser application); 2) biochar from sugarcane bagasse applied at a rate of 10 t/ha; 3) diammonium phosphate (DAP) applied at the recommended rate; and 4) biochar + DAP. Some farmers who usually use manure also included a treatment with manure on their field plots. David Lelei explained that the demonstration site includes more treatments and crops than those being evaluated at the farmers’ fields.

The next morning, we went to 7 farms that are located in one of the water catchments and talked to the farmers about their experience with biochar so far. Although it had not rained much during this season and farmers are getting worried about the lack of rain, most of the farmers reported positive benefits from using biochar in the previous season. In fact, there were some farmers that wanted to add biochar to all their farms and not only to the small plots. From the previous season’s crop yields and observation of plant growth in this season, most farmers said that the most promising treatment is the biochar + DAP.

In the afternoon, we went to the second catchment and visited more farmers who reported similar results as those visited in the morning. Some farmers also said that, in general, there were more weeds in the biochar-amended plots than in the areas that received no fertiliser (control) or only DAP. One farmer, Harrison, said that biochar is beneficial to the soil because it retains moisture and releases it slowly to the plants when they need it. Furthermore, he wanted to know how to produce biochar himself or where to buy more biochar for all his land.

The following day, we visited the third catchment and had an spontaneous meeting with most of the participating farmers from all catchments. Many farmers reported that the maize plants growing on the biochar-amended plots have a darker green colour and thicker stalks. In many farms, this was noticeable. Also most farmers said that it was much easier to work with the soil that received biochar additions, due to the decrease in soil compaction. The treatments with biochar + DAP have consistently resulted in the highest plant growth. At the meeting, after the acknowledgements and the speech of the village’s chief, a female farmer thanked us about working with them to learn more about biochar, and now she is sharing her experience with others that did not believe that biochar application to soil could be effective in increasing plant growth. Special thanks to Edmundo, David and Henry for championing the B4SS project in Kenya!