Unlocking Soil Potential by Utilizing Compost Manure

Unlocking Soil Potential by Utilizing Compost Manure

As food production demand keeps on rising due to increasing world population, keeping our soils healthy by just practising manure composting on our farms can go a long way in ensuring healthy soils to guarantee improved yields to feed the world population. This year 2015 being the ‘year of soils’ something got to be done to reclaim deteriorating soil conditions, the state of affairs has been instigated by intensive and excessive use of inorganic fertilizers while doing very little to conserve the soils. Due to this, cases of alkalinity/acidity, soil nutrients deficiencies and dwindling yields have been widely reported. (Soil test results by National Accelerated Agricultural Input Program (NAIAAP) 2014)

Compost manure does not only supply macronutrients and micronutrients for crop production but is also a valuable source of organic matter. Increasing soil organic matter improves soil structure or tilth, increases waters holding capacity, improves soil drainage, provides a source of slow release nutrients, reduces wind and water erosion and promotes growth of earthworms and other beneficial soil micro organisms. It is also cheap because it is derived from crop residues and animal manure that is readily available, reduces environmental pollution caused by inorganic fertilizer and results into enhanced yields.

Mr SimonMr. Stephen on his maize plantation, he used compost manure on the farm while planting during the 2015 short rains season

One Mr. Stephen W. Simiyu, chairman of Salem Youth Group in Muanda location, Bumula Subcounty, Bungoma County who has been practising manure composting and is all smiles as he reaps its benefits. He does manure composting on his farm using remains of maize stalks, grasses, tree leaves, legumes leaves and cow dung that takes 9-12 weeks to be ready for use on the farm. He says since adoption, he now harvests 12, 90kgs bags of maize up from 3.5, 90kgs bags he used to get from the same 0.75 acres of land, his soils retain moisture even during dry spells because of improved water holding capacity and uses less of inorganic fertilizers.

Prior to embracing manure composting, Mr. Stephen used to incur KES 7400 on inorganic fertilizer but now he spends KES 3000, a 59.45% cost reduction on fertilizers use.

Mr. Stephen was first introduced to manure composting in 2010 by FIPS-Africa (Farm inputs Promotion), in 2012 he worked with PAFID (Participatory Approach for Integrated Development) and in 2015 he up-scaled his skills on manure composting after attending a training session organized by USAID-KAVES (Kenya Agriculture Value Chain Enterprises-Project in partnership with FAO (Food Agriculture Organization). Currently, Mr. Stephen practises conservation Agriculture/Minimum tillage that advocates for use of plant residues as manure, minimum soil disturbance that has enabled him to be an exemplary farmer in the region and he is also a lead farmer who trains other fellow young farmers in the region.

Making compost manure is not hard as long as one has the required materials, equipments and technical skills. The materials required are crop residues from cereals; maize, sorghum, millet, wheat, legumes; beans, cowpeas, ground nut, green grams and green manure as mexican sunflower (tithonia), glyricidia, leucaena, sesbania, crotalaria and lantana leaves that increases the compost nitrogen content. The tools one requires are fork jembe, panga, wheelbarrow, sticks, spade and watering can. A space of approximately 2.5m by 2m for the heap and similar space for turning the heap is also required. The more organic materials one has, the more space is needed.



Mr. Stephen turns up the compost heap to ensure effective break down of the organic matter


Mr. Stephen parting shot was “compost manure has helped me a great deal in improving my yields and reducing usage of expensive inorganic fertilizer and I would encourage any farmer to adopt the practise because it is easy to make. I would also encourage more sensitization and trainings to fellow farmers because most farmers only use cow dung to make the compost that results into only few nutrients”

There are two types of compost manure, pit compost and pile (on surface) compost. The former is preferable during rainy season while the latter during dry spell. The process of making compost manure is as follows:

  • Choose a site, preferably near the farm to ease transportation and should be sheltered from run-off, wind and direct sunlight.
  • Dig a pit of 1m depth for pit compost and sprinkle top soil at the pit bottom to introduce micro-organisms or scrub the grass and loosening the top soil at 30cm depth for surface compost.
  • Build the compost pile starting with bigger materials like maize stalks, dry matter like grasses, legumes leaves and green matter like sesbania, green grasses in that order.
  • Add animal manure on the materials piled. At this point, wood ash or EM-solution (Effective Micro-organisms solution) like EM composta is added to accelerate the decomposition rate.
  • Add top soil and sprinkle little water. The pile should be moist not wet or dry.
  • Insert a thermometer stick diagonally into the compost pile. This helps to determine the moisture level in the pile. When it is dry, water should be sprinkled, when wet avoid adding water. The pile should be moist.
  • Cover the compost pile with dry grass or banana fibre to avoid evaporation of nutrients from the pile.

The farmer should periodically (every 3 weeks) turn the compost pile, this creates high heat and breaks down the raw organic matter into a dark rich soil like product. After 3-4 months the compost manure shall have fully fermented and produces a smell similar to that of forest soils and ready for use.

Having healthy soil with all the required nutrients for crop growth with ability to absorb and hold water during dry seasons while providing habitant for soil microbes to keep the ecosystem running smoothly will save farmers from diminishing yields. Considering inorganic fertilizers are not pocket friendly, farmers should therefore go manure composting way to improve their soil conditions and cut costs on inorganic fertilizers. It is a simple process that any farmer can build with minimal cost implications. Have a healthy soil day!

Story by Calvince Onyuka,

Cereal Growers Association, Bungoma.



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