29.11.2016 |

Study: Organic farming in Kenya produces comparable yields, more profits

Maize trial plot in Thika, Kenya (Photo: FiBL, Franziska Hämmerli)

Organic farming in Kenya can produce comparable yields to conventional systems and is more profitable for farmers after a conversion period due to premium prices. This is the finding of a long-term study, carried out by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in close cooperation with partners in Kenya. The study, published on November 1 in the journal “Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment”, compares the results of conventional and organic farming at high and low input levels over a six-year period. The maize-based field trials were established in 2007 at two locations in the central highlands of Kenya, Chuka and Thika, which have different conditions with regard to soil fertility and rainfall. The researchers did not compare apples with oranges but rather conventional and organic high input systems, which represent commercial-scale, export-oriented production that uses irrigation water, as well as low input systems that correspond to local smallholder practices under rain-fed conditions. In the conventional trial sites, synthetic fertilisers and farmyard manure were used whilst the organic systems only received organic inputs.

The researchers found that after a three-year conversion phase, crop yields from high-input organic systems were similar to those of high-input conventional systems at both sites. In the low-input systems at Thika, maize yields were three times higher in conventional farming when only maize was planted. However, yields in both systems were similar when maize was intercropped with beans. Even though production costs were higher in organic systems than in conventional ones this was soon balanced out because organic farmers made higher profits at local markets in Chuka and Thika and regional markets (Nairobi). In the first two years, profits in conventional farming was higher, but from the third year onwards, profits were similar even when organic produce was sold at regular prices. From the fifth year onwards, organic high input systems attracted a price premium of 20 to 50% and this made it 1.3 to 4.1 times more profitable than conventional systems.

The study also revealed that nutrient balances on both sites were negative in the low-input systems as well as in the conventional high-input system. Only the organic high-input system had a positive nutrient balance due to the practice of leaving crop residues in the field. The scientists therefore highlighted the need to improve management practices to increase soil fertility. The authors point out that appropriate policy measures need to be put in place in order to utilise the full potential of organic farming. The study reads: “More attention has to be paid to the use of simple machinery and techniques in reducing production costs in organic farming. It is also important to develop appropriate marketing opportunities for organic produce, and to implement policy measures to ensure that the economic benefits from this premium market actually reach the farmers.” The scientists recommend giving high priority to the intercropping of maize and beans in low input farming systems. The study concludes that “high-input organic farming is productive, economically viable, resource-conserving and can contribute to sustainable agricultural production in Kenya and the regions in sub-Saharan Africa that have environmental conditions” similar to the two trial sites. (ab)

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