Fully commercialized BNF technologies in Kenya

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Farmers in west Kenya enjoy ready access to commercialized BNF technologies, in large part due to the efforts of N2Africa and its strategic partnership with both the private sector and the WeRATE network of farmer associations. Commercial partnership with MEA Fertilizers Ltd. has led to the manufacture and distribution of BIOFIX legume inoculant and blending of Sympal, a fertilizer specifically designed for symbiotic legumes.

BIOFIX legume inoculant resulted from product licensing by the University of Nairobi MIRCEN laboratory, one of N2Africa’s earliest partners. Now, the inoculant is produced at MEA’s factory in Nakuru for several legume hosts (soyabean, bean, pea, green gram, lucerne and others) in a variety of packaged quantities (10, 20, 50, 100 and 150 g). MIRCEN continues to offer quality control inspection with the most recent tests, averaging over 5 x 109 colony forming units (CFU) per gram! N2Africa designed software used in the analysis and distribution of these quality control results and worked with "last mile" stockists to display BIOFIX in glass-fronted refrigerators. It also worked with MEA to develop a product return policy, where unsold stock at the end of each season is replaced with fresh stock the following one. Production of BIOFIX exceeded 10 tons in 2015, sufficient to treat over 20,000 ha. Not all is being used in Kenya as the product is also exported to Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The efficacy of BIOFIX applied to soyabean and climbing bean was firmly established during the first phase of the project. Nowadays our technology tests no longer include non-inoculated plots, so that other less-established management options may be examined in greater detail.

Sympal is a fertilizer blend developed by N2Africa and commercially produced and distributed by MEA. It contains no mineral nitrogen, but offers a balanced supply of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and zinc. This fertilization strategy optimizes biological nitrogen fixation by assuring that mineral nutrient supply remains non-limiting. This blend was formulated by N2Africa, proto-types packaged by MEA and distributed free-of-charge, tested and refined through on-farm testing by WeRATE and the final product then produced at MEA’s blending facility in Nakuru. Selling Sympal presents no challenge, especially for use on inoculated soybean, because the plants become dark "blue" and yield increases by about 700 kg ha-1.

Photo 1. Sympal production at the MEA blending facility in Nakuru, Kenya

Appreciation of Sympal extends well beyond our network as over 128 tons of this product were blended and marketed by MEA over the past few years. It is available in 2, 10 and 50 kg plastic lined woven polythene bags. Sympal is very effective when applied to inoculated pea as well, but less so with bean. As a result, MEA formulated and markets a sister product "P Mabau" that combines Sympal with 10% mineral nitrogen. Use of this new product on soyabean at 125 kg ha-1 on 25 farms in west Kenya during 2015 slightly increased yields, but not sufficiently to offset the fertilizer’s higher price.

Grain legume seed is widely produced and marketed throughout Kenya by several seed companies. These seeds include bean, pea, green gram, forage and fodder legumes and most recently soyabean. N2Africa and WeRATE conducted widespread testing of soyabean in west Kenya, examining several traits such as seed size, protein and oil content and "dual purpose" growth habit. Ultimately, varietal choice was largely determined by tolerance to Asian Rust, a foliar fungal disease outbreak that occurred after soyabean production grew in popularity. Two soyabean varieties, SC Saga and SC Squire, developed by Seed Co are extremely resistant to rust. SC Saga was licensed for distribution in Kenya in 2014 and is first appearing on stockists shelves in west Kenya. Meanwhile, WeRATE members continue to produce seeds of locally preferred varieties, particularly SC Squire and SB 19, through community-based efforts. Our work with climbing bean also led to the recognition and commercial release of climbing bean cv "Kenya Muvano", a very aggressive variety first sourced from Rwanda and now distributed by Kenya Seed Company.

Photo 2. Soyabeans delivered to a marketing collection point in west Kenya contained in N2Africa branded grain sacks

Last-mile input supply is an important principle within N2Africa and is being achieved in west Kenya through several mechanisms. WeRATE conducted agrodealer training of members belonging to the West Kenya Chapter of the Kenya AgroDealer Association (KENADA), sensitizing many stockists to BNF technology products for the first time. Next, twelve One-Stop Shops were initiated among WeRATE members, allowing for BNF technologies to be directly marketed to farmers that participate in our grain legume outreach. WeRATE also initiated the Agricultural Technology Clearinghouse, a semi-annual event that brings together representatives from farmer associations, input manufactures and distributors, and the development community to discuss which input products are performing best and which new products are becoming available. This mechanism effectively links input suppliers and buyers and allows for research organizations to design on-farm technology tests around recently (or soon to be) released products. Input manufactures recognize the potency of the Clearinghouse and bring numerous product samples for distribution by technology testers, sometimes unannounced, creating a circus atmosphere. Self-sponsored participants from Rwanda and Uganda replicate the Clearinghouse in their home countries. Assistance to Kenyan soyabean producers continues through a recently-formed national task force that adopted production guidelines developed by N2Africa and arranged for wholesale distribution of BIOFIX and Sympal to key soyabean-producing counties.

Demand-driven technology supply is not being overlooked. Basically, adoption levels of production inputs are determined by the production levels and marketing of commodities they accommodate. The Early Impact Assessment of N2Africa (2013) reported that outreach efforts led to the increased production of over 12,000 tons of soyabean per year in Kenya and that the adoption of N2Africa’s recommended practice was 61% among its outreach clients. Currently, soyabean production and marketing is monitored through the activities of WeRATE members by a seasonal survey. Over the past year, these members have bulked and marketed over 478 tons of produce through their collection centers with prices ranging between $0.38 and $0.75 per kg. These data do not include the production and sales by individual group members and other farmers away from these collection centers, but certainly indicate that soyabean production and marketing is becoming a viable concern. More attention is however needed to full evaluate the impacts of N2Africa in terms of its fullest production and marketing impacts.

Paul L. Woomer, Josephine Ongoma and Teresah Wafullah