Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to address this gathering which will witness the launch of the project Ã¢â‚¬Å“Putting Nitrogen Fixation to Work for Smallholder Farmers in AfricaÃ¢â‚¬Â. The project is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will draw on expertise from a large number of research and development specialists from Africa, Australia, Europe and Brazil. Under the project I am informed that state-of-the-art legume and rhizobial inoculant technologies will be used by African smallholder farmers to triple the inputs of free atmospheric nitrogen by Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF), and thereby improving crop and livestock productivity, human nutrition and farm income, while enhancing soil health.
There is a general consensus that in order to improve agricultural productivity, food security, and the overall human welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa we need to address the problem of low soil fertility in the region. You may recall that at the African Heads of State summit held in 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria, a fertilizer use intensity of 50kg Nitrogen per hectare was recommended for use by African farmers. Scientists have observed that various nitrogen fixation rates occur in nature from barely detectable to several hundred kilograms per hectare per year. Therefore growth of legumes to ensure effective Biological Nitrogen Fixation can meet the goals of the Abuja Summit.
Agricultural scientists have manipulated this symbiotic relationship in agronomic practice, employing selected combinations of bacteria and legumes in specific situations to obtain maximum crop production on land which is of low fertility and frequently unsuitable for growth of non-legume crops. In Brazil and Southern Africa rates of nitrogen fixation with soya-beans under field conditions can exceed 300kg of Nitrogen per hectare.
Ladies and Gentlemen, agricultural production in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by smallholder farming systems which are associated with low productivity. Although the inclusion of legumes has the potential to improve system productivity, often less than 5-10% of cultivated land is currently planted with field legumes. Grain legumes are often included as minor intercrops in fields of cereals and other staple crops. This is because smallholder farmers operate under diverse socio-ecological constraints that limit the productivity of legumes and farmersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ ability to scale up the integration of legumes into their farming systems.
I am delighted to note that this new initiative will use legumes as a basis for improving cropping systems and household well-being, increasing inputs from BNF that will link family protein supply and farm nitrogen inputs directly to the atmosphere, which will improve soil health as well as increase household incomes. An integrated assessment will be made of the biophysical and socio-economic factors that are likely to influence farmersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ decisions to adopt legume and associated rhizobial inoculation technologies to improve BNF, allowing us to identify appropriate legume niches for different farmer resource endowments, farm typologies and agro-ecologies.
The expected project outcomes will be:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Diversification of nitrogen fixing legume species that are integrated into smallholder farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Expansion in cultivation of grain and forage legumes, greater productivity in legume-based farming systems, and enhanced family incomes;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Selection of efficient rhizobial inoculant strains and improved grain legume varieties with enhanced BNF capacities adapted to various environmental stresses;
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Establishment of a state-of-the-art laboratory and culture collection of elite strains of rhizobia for target legumes, and
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Establishment of rhizobial inoculant production in countries of West, East and Southern Africa, through partnership with the private sector.
The large body of research findings on BNF and nitrogen dynamics in smallholder farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa will be used, together with the results from adaptive on-farm research to improve existing legume and inoculum-based technologies, develop new ones and support extension campaigns intended to increase BNF and its benefits under smallholder conditions.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the proposed project total annual benefits of the Project at the conclusion of Year 4 are projected to be at least $31.9 million based upon conservative estimates of increased productivity by the targeted grain legumes (soya-bean, common beans, cowpea, groundnut, chickpea, and pigeon pea) and their contribution to yield of subsequent maize crop.
An earlier but recent work in Western Kenya by the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (TSBF-CIAT), based on soya-bean, demonstrated how the benefits from BNF were appropriated by over 20,000 smallholder farmers from more than 10 districts (including Mumias, Butere, Migori, Busia, Teso, Kisumu rural, Vihiga, Siaya, Kakamega, Bungoma, etc.). Based on the value chain approach of this initiative, smallholder farmers were able to increase the net returns they obtained from soya-bean cultivation from four to 14 times.
This initiative led to the creation of several Soya-bean Resource Centres in various districts in the Western Province and beyond with many farm families now easily accessing soya-milk presently unlike before. The same initiative has led to what could be described as Soya Cow-Vita Goat (soya-milk processing machines of different capacities) revolution in Western Kenya, showing how farmers easily adopt technologies that work for them with demonstrable benefits within a foreseeable timeframe. More importantly, the Government of Kenya, through its Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has also developed keen interest on the role of soya-bean in the farming systems of Kenya. As a result, the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) jointly organized a Soya-bean Stakeholders Workshop on 16 June 2009, culminating on a Strategy for Soya-bean Development and Promotion in Kenya.
Ladies and Gentlemen, soya-bean was first introduced to Kenya from Uganda in 1904 and took a long time to penetrate the Kenyan farming systems, although soya-bean is a major commercial crop in the United States of America, Brazil and Argentina. Soya-bean has many beneficial aspects including high level of nutritive values with 40% proteins and 20% oil. Soya-beans are the non-fish sources of essential omega three fatty acids which help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease compared to other sources of protein like navy beans. The fats also contain linolenic acid that is essential for absorption of nutrients and is a precursor of hormones that regulate the growth of healthy cells in human beings.
In order to enhance the production, utilization, and marketing of soya-bean and soya-bean products a strategic alliance of important stakeholders has been formed comprising soya-bean farmers and farmer associations, input suppliers, non-governmental organizations, food processors, information agencies, government institutions, and development partners. Three soya-milk making machines have been established in three communities (Eldoret, Migori and Butere-Mumias) in western Kenya. At full capacity, these machines will produce 48 to 60 litres of soya-milk per day.
Using a three-tier approach, soya-bean production, utilization, and marketing will be introduced to other parts of Kenya and Africa. This three-tier approach model was in 2006 awarded a prize at the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) conference in India.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in conclusion, let me acknowledge that this project is in line with our long term economic blue print the Kenya Vision 2030 and especially it is in line with our Vision for agriculture as it directly fits into two of the five key strategic thrusts identified in the Vision 2030 covering agriculture productivity, value addition and market access.
It is now my pleasure to officially launch the Biological Nitrogen Fixation Project.