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A case for soil conservation


As an agricultural country our soil is our life line.  The soil feeds us and our livestock, sustains wild life for tourism, generates income for our other needs, sustains other plant life that provides us a clean, cool environment and provides rich grasses for gardens. 

Human beings hold soils in trust for future generations and are responsible for the conservation of these soils.  We in Kenya are fortunate to have such a large variety of fertile cultivable soils which facilitate growing of many crops. In their natural state most of our soils are productive for a variety of crops besides being suitable for livestock rearing. 

Well managed Kenyan soils should produce as many as 40 bags of maize per acre in one harvest.  In many areas of the country it is possible to grow more than one crop of maize in a year.  Kenya has the potential to be self-sufficient in food production and have a surplus for export. 

Unfortunately Kenyans mismanage soils in the same way they mismanage storm water.  The cultivation is shallow, mostly down the slopes; the ground is left bare for long periods;  roads and foot path construction makes no provision for conservation of storm run-off water; nor do our institutions and property developers make any provision for the management of both ground run-off water or roof catchment.  All these sins of commission and omission expose the soil to serious erosion.  Other agents of soil erosion are animals and strong winds.

The effects of soil destruction are evident everywhere.  They can be seen in the bleached soils; the washing away of the nutrient rich top soils leaving unhealthy-looking bare ground; soils that have become too acidic to produce health crops; yellowish brown stunted crops; and yields that are far below expectation. What is disappointing is that all stakeholders in soil utilization and conservation including farmers, road engineers, educationists, real estate developers and policy makers, watch as the soils which are Kenya’s lifeline are washed down rivers, lakes and into the sea.

Surely there must be a solution to soil destruction!  The following are some of the measures that need reemphasising:
•    The government must intervene now to save our soils.
•    It is time acknowledge that soil conservation is a key element of environmental conservation, and food security. 
•    There is need for a clear national policy on soil conservation.
•    The National Environment Management Agency which is responsible for coordination of environmental issues must ensure that all stake holders in soil use are clear about the soil conservation policy.
•    Stake holders must be required to address soil conservation as a matter of urgency. 
•    Farmers need assistance to build soil structures which inhibit washing away of loose soil on their land.
•    Road engineers should make provision for management of storm water which guard against draining the water into river valleys. 
•    Property developers, home owners and managers of institutions should make provision for harvesting water from roofs and directing any excess water into the ground to enrich underground water sources.
•    They must also ensure that grounds are not left bare in their premises. 
•    Lastly, the community should undertake strong wind break measures such as planting of hedges and trees, and be assisted to utilize strong winds to generate energy .

(Alice Owano is an education and development specialist with a keen interest in the environment)

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