What do I plant?
This is a common question asked by aspiring farmers. This question is normally followed by a series of questions, Will it do well? Is there a ready market? What are the returns?
One of the things to consider is the type of soil on your land. The soil provides your plants with the essential nutrients, water and air, necessary for healthy growth and development. Knowing the type of soil on one’s land will go a long way in guiding you on what to plant. There are many types of soil; they include loamy, sandy, clay, and silty. In Kenya, we have loamy sands which are found in the highlands, alluvial (silt) soils found along river valleys, volcanic soils found in sub-humid regions such as the lake regions and black cotton soils found in places like Mwea. Different soils have different advantages and shortcomings; the sooner you get to know them the better. Soil tests are also encouraged as a preventive measure before planting.
Another thing you need to consider is the climate. This mainly applies to farmers who opt for open field farming. Climatic factors such as rain, wind, humidity, temperature and light are essential to plant growth but excess or lack off might negatively affect your crops. For example, wind is essential for pollination but excess wind might cause excessive water loss or even destroy your plants. One of the major things to consider is the market availability. You don’t want to be stuck with 1000kgs worth of produce. Find out the types of crops that are profitable. One may also research on the types of companies out there that buy crops for exports and compare this with prices in local markets. Obviously the companies will win but they might require a lot of things for one to be considered viable for their export programs, thus, making local markets the best solution. Examples of websites that provide farmers with marketing information in Kenya are National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), M-farm and many more that are just a click away.
Next comes the wait. Anxiety sets in, hair falls out, prayer meetings are held, sacrifices are done (LOL). Mrs. X told you how her tomatoes did so well but yours don’t look like hers. What could be the problem? Most of the time, you lack good advice and not from Mrs. X, but from an experienced professional we call an agronomist. Agronomists are research scientists who study plants and soil to help farmers get better crop yields. An experienced agronomist will provide information and guidance on the right chemicals, fertilizers and inputs to use from planting all the way to harvesting.
I hope this information helps.