A successful method to farm in soil with a high salt content

Transition to climate smart agriculture in practice

A team of Delphy, Salt Farm Texel and Nectaerra has initiated an agricultural development with a simple principle: crops must be adapted to the environment, the environment must not be adapted to crops. To implement this principle in practice the team received SBIR funding from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, which allows the team to assess which measures can lead to successful farming in soil with a high degree of salt (saline soil). 

Harvesting the first test batch of carrots farmed in soil with a high salt content

Harvesting the first test batch of carrots farmed in soil with a high salt content

The project aims to offer a solution to a phenomena typical of sub-Saharan Africa: input-dependent, intensive mono-cropping agricultural systems leading to land degradation (erosion, salinization and biodiversity loss) and long-term decreases in crop yields.

The goal of the project is to improve crop yield, water availability and soil quality with short, medium and long-term interventions:

  • Saline cultivation techniques that allow cultivation with saline soil and / or water, also in areas previously unsuitable for agriculture (short term);
  • Smart water management and underground water storage to prevent flooding and create a buffer during dry spells (mid-term);
  • Modern cultivation knowledge and agroforestry (AF) in which one-year crops are combined with trees (long term)

To implement these proven interventions successfully a focused, local adaptation is needed from the farmers’ side so that the interventions lead to a quick return of investment. To achieve this the team plans to have a local Kenyan crop consultant who will assist the farmers during this transition phase with hands-on advice and training.

The team compares the weight of the local carrots and salt-tolerant carrots

The team compares the weight of the local carrots and salt-tolerant carrots

100% more yield

On the 27th of September 2018, one local carrot variety and two salt-tolerant carrot varieties were sown by two volunteer farmers in Kenya who suffer from saline water and soils. During the harvest on 13 December 2018, the first results (table 1) where obtained. These results indicate that a combination of mulching (simple soil water management) and using salt tolerant carrot varieties can provide a doubling of the local carrot yield. The use of simple water management measures has proven that use of irrigation water can be reduced with 20-40%.

SBIR Variety 2 SBIR variety 1
Increase in total weight of the two tested varieties compared to the local variety
Mulching +121% +115%
No mulching +23% +45%
Average +72% +80%

In phase 2 of the project, the tools will be developed to provide farmers with the means to transform their farms in a structural way and develop resilient climate smart farms for commercial vegetable production.

Physically, the water management will be restructured and trees will be planted. One of the farmers who volunteered in this project has told us that he lost crops with a total value of €20.000 last year due to flooding. This can be largely avoided with smart, on-farm water management.

Visitors discuss the outcome and farming partices used with the project partners

Visitors discuss the outcome and farming partices used with the project partners

Trees are the future

Also tree planting will be initiated, but their viability cannot be proven for the coming years. However, research has shown that when Agroforestry (AF) systems are correctly designed and constructed, AF combines the best aspects of tree cultivation and other agricultural systems, resulting in more sustainable use of land and food production. Results from research in different parts of the world show that AF intercropping systems make more effective use of sunlight, land, water and nutrients, and have fewer diseases and pests. Today, AF is recognized as a land use system that produces both food and wood, while protecting and rehabilitating ecosystems.

The Netherlands believes that climate smart farming is the way forward. Moreover, successful farming practices for farmers who experience challenges due to a high salt content in their farming ground offers many promising opportunities for the Dutch & Kenyan private sector in Kenya.

More information on the SBIR funding can be found on the RVO website: https://www.rvo.nl/subsidies-regelingen/sbir. The information is unfortunately only in Dutch.

If you have questions for about this project feel free to contact Geoffrey Nyandoro at G.Nyandoro@delphy.nl. For more information on the activities of Salt Farm Texel, Nectaerra or Delphy follow the link. In case of questions for the Agricultural Counsellor feel free to contact us via nai-lnv@minbuza.nl. For the latest updates follow us on twitter @NLAgriKenya.