Notes to broadcasters
Crop residues are the remains that are left over after the plant or crop has been put to use – for household food, for fodder, for sale, etc. In western Kenya, farmers usually spread these residues along their farm boundaries. Some residues may be used for making composted manure or laid on the floor of a cattle shed to mix with dung to produce manure fertilizer for crops.
In western Kenya, farmers have long known that burning crop residues is a bad habit. However, bean crop residues are often burned. The ash is often cooked with vegetables such as cowpeas to make them softer for eating. Farmers normally burn these bean residues in their homes. Apart from beans, only a few farmers burn crop residues, except when there are so many residues that they may take a long time to decompose. The practice of burning crop residues has its positive effects. What we must note is that its positive effects are very short-term, as the script will show.
In this script, a smallholder farmer and an agricultural researcher give different opinions on whether burning crop residues and grasses is a good idea. The farmer sees that burning residues makes her farming work easier. Burning controls weeds and pests, and improves yields in the season after burning. On the other hand, the agricultural researcher says that, over the long-term, burning destroys the soil. It causes increased soil erosion; it kills beneficial soil organisms, and eventually causes lower yields.
This is a complicated subject. Some researchers say that, in humid environments like western Kenya, it is not as harmful to burn residues as it would be in dryer environments. In dry environments, burning residues can reduce soil fertility quite quickly.
For some farmers, it may be easier and cheaper to burn residues and grass, even if it is not a good long-term strategy. Farmers may not have the labour or resources to grow cover crops, or dig residues into their fields, or adopt other practices that are better for long-term soil fertility and soil conservation than burning. They do not have enough labour to cut bush and pull weeds by hand. So they burn their fields and they see immediate gains.
However, broadcasters should help farmers understand that cover crops, incorporating residues, and other soil-building practices – including the residue and agroforestry practices suggested by the agricultural researcher in this script – are a good long-term investment, and will help them achieve good yields over the long-term. It’s important to note that not all these practices work in every climate. For example, farmers in dryer areas may not have sufficient mulch or crop residues to use some of these practices. Or all the residues may be needed to feed livestock.
This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
Farmer: Josephine Atieno
Agricultural researcher: Lena Oringa Thematic music to introduce the program
For a moment, listener, think of a farming practice that people feel negative about. You might take the risk as a farmer to test the practice on a small piece of land. This may convince you of its benefits as well as it negative effects. So it’s not a bad idea to try it out. But first, talk to farmers and researchers. Find out the reasons why they say that the practice might be positive or negative.
Today’s guests are Mama Josephine, a farmer, and an agricultural researcher, Mrs. Lena Oringa. This is what they will talk about today on your favorite radio station…. Stay tuned. I am your presenter, (presenter’s name).Musical break
In this area, our soils are infertile because of damage from human activities. I tried techniques to improve the depleted soils so I could get good crop yields. I planted trees to control erosion, and I did improved fallows instead of leaving the land naturally fallow. Burning crop residues is something I learned about just by trying it and seeing what happened. It’s an old tradition. Whenever the extension officers from the Ministry of Agriculture visited, they would condemn this practice. And so I believed it was not a good thing to do. But I always believe the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” Those who are in need will always find solutions through trial and error.
I think that with this practice, those who use fertilizer can reduce the amount of fertilizer they use. I took a risk. Through trial and error, I reaped the benefits of what other farmers believe is a poor farming practice. I believe that farmers should adopt this practice to see positive results. Experimenting with the practice is the way to see and confirm the truth.
So, for quite some time, this practice has been discouraged. I know that there are benefits. When we burn the residues, we kill pests. Some pests contribute to diseases so there’s a double benefit. Weeds are also killed.
Farmers can also plant the tree known as Faidherbia albida, at 100 to 150 trees per hectare. This will provide nutrients equivalent to 300 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare every year, plus lots of phosphorus and magnesium. Planting Faidherbia at this density can double or triple yields.
We have heard that ash has short term positive effects but long term negative effects. Though ash is a natural product that contributes positively, we should be cautious when using it. This is just like snake poison. Snake poison is natural, but can we use it to kill bugs on our farm?
Listeners, we believe that wherever you are, you have learned that it is not always easy to tell if a particular farming practice is negative or positive. There can be differences of opinion. And some practices may have short term benefits but negative long term side effects. In such cases, I urge you to follow the advice we have heard from the researcher if we want to experience great results as farmers.
Thank you for staying tuned. I am your presenter (presenter’s name). Until we meet on the next program on soil health, bye.
Contributed by: Senior Writer Rachel Awuor, Ugunja Community Resource Centre, Kenya, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
Reviewed by: Peter Gaichie Kimani, consultant to World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya
Interview with Luke Musewe, Ugunja Divisional Agriculture Officer, 20th April 2010
Interview with Josephine Atieno, Farmer, 26th March, 2010