Planting is in full swing for the 2013 long rains season in Kuria West, Kenya. Farmers have spent the last few months preparing land, acquiring their farm inputs (seed and fertilizer) from Nuru Kenya and awaiting the rain. The rains have come a bit late to Kuria West this year, but now that they are here, farmers are out in full force working hard to get their maize planted.

It is imperative for farmers to follow the Nuru Kenya Agriculture Program trainings at key times in the season. Planting is one such time, as the technique that farmers use can significantly impact their yields.  To get the highest yields possible, farmers must choose a suitable plot, plant at the right time, follow proper planting protocols and use high-quality inputs. To help farmers succeed, Nuru Kenya offers inputs on credit, comprehensive planting training and in-field support at every step of the planting process.

Proper planting begins with selecting a suitable plot of land for growing maize. Farmers should choose an area that is in full sun, flat and secure. By choosing flat plots, farmers can avoid erosion and depletion of soil nutrients. Flat fields also ensure fertilizers will not run-off during heavy rainfall and pollute nearby water sources. In addition to these requirements, Nuru Kenya encourages farmers to practice crop rotation and avoid planting in fields that have large populations of invasive weeds.

When agriculture is rain-fed, as it is in Kuria West, after farmers have selected and plowed their land, they wait for the rain. Usually, the long rains begin in late February or early March. Many farmers wait until it has rained heavily for two or three days to begin planting. This ensures that the soil is easily workable and has sufficient moisture content after enduring the long, hot days of January. A few days of solid rain often signals the arrival of the rainy season.

Aside from rain, one of the most important aspects of planting is proper spacing. Prior to Nuru Kenya’s trainings, many farmers in Kuria West would broadcast seeds into the field and let them germinate wherever they landed. The broadcasting method of planting is problematic because it does not provide consistent results. Sometimes, too few plants germinate in an area, which results in a small harvest. Other times, too many plants will germinate. If this happens, plants will compete for nutrients, water and sunlight, which also lowers yields.

Nuru farmers plant their maize in rows with 25 cm between each plant and 75 cm between each row. This spacing ensures that each plant receives the water, sunlight and nutrients it needs. Farmers are taught by Nuru Kenya to use a planting string to ensure proper spacing of their maize. To make a planting string, farmers take a rope or string and make a mark or tie a piece of plastic along the string every 25 cm. When planting, they stretch the string across their field and dig small holes at every mark to indicate where seeds should be planted. After finishing a row, the farmer moves the string to the next row and begins again.

Once the spacing is marked in the field, the farmer goes to each hole and pours in one bottle cap of diammonium phosphate (DAP). DAP is a conventional fertilizer that assists with germination and early plant growth. Proper fertilization for early plant growth was seldom done in Kuria West prior to Nuru Kenya’s intervention because most farmers did not have access to cash or even small loans to purchase fertilizer. Others did not know how to properly apply fertilizer.  Nuru Kenya teaches its farmers to add a small amount of DAP to each hole, just enough for proper plant growth, rather than applying the fertilizer liberally across the field. This helps the farmer save money and ensures the fertilizer does not contaminate the surrounding environment. After adding DAP, the farmer is almost done. The farmer covers the DAP with some soil, adds one certified hybrid seed to the hole, and then tops it off with soil.

Planting an acre of maize by hand requires a significant amount of time and labor. Depending on the available household labor, planting can take up to a couple of weeks. However, Nuru farmers work in groups of 8-12 to plant their fields. By working in groups, farmers can cut the time it takes to plant an acre down from one or two weeks to one or two days. This helps ensure the crop gets planted in sync with the rains and with the support from other group members, each of which have been trained in the proper planting techniques.

When it comes to planting, using proper technique and quality inputs are both important. By choosing to farm with Nuru Kenya’s Agriculture Program, Kuria West farmers get the total package. They get quality inputs on credit, are taught how to use them to maximize their yields, and are supported by field officers and group members along the way. Farming maize using manpower is still difficult and requires hard work and dedication, but by working together, Nuru Kenya and the farmers of Kuria West are helping to end hunger in their communities for good.


Farmer preparing his shamba for the growing season.