Integrating scientific and farmers’ evaluation of soil quality indicators in Central Kenya
ABSTRACT A study was conducted to determine farmers’ perceptions of soil quality and common soil management practices that influenced soil fertility within farmers’ fields in Chuka and Gachoka divisions, Kenya. Soils were characterised by smallholders after which they were geo-referenced and sampled at surface depth (0–20 cm) for subsequent physical and chemical analyses, to determine differences within farmers’ soil quality categories. Indicators for distinguishing productive and non-productive fields included crop yield and performance, soil colour and soil texture. There were significant differences among soil fertility categories, using parametric techniques (ANOVA) for key soil properties (p < 0.005), implying that there was a qualitative difference in the soils that were characterised as different by farmers. Fertile soils had significantly higher pH, total organic carbon, exchangeable cations and available-N. Factor analysis on 15 soil properties identified 4 main factors that explained 68% of the total variance in soil quality. The four Varimax-rotated factors were designated as contrasts that described soil quality status on farmers’ fields. The first factor grouped calcium, magnesium and soil pH, while the second component comprised available nitrogen, organic carbon and total nitrogen. The third factor included plant nutrients mainly extractable phosphorus and available nitrogen, while the fourth factor comprised soil physical properties (macroaggregates, microaggregates, silt, and clay). Soil fertility and crop management practices that were investigated indicated that farmers understood and consequently utilised spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in soil quality status within their farms as a resource to maintain or enhance agricultural productivity.