Ongoing poor yields has pushed scientists and farmers together to accelerate the uptake of grafting as a permanent solution. Grafting involves picking one part of a plant that is inferior and replacing it by tying the plant with another of superior nature to produce a hybrid.
Across tomatoes, mangoes, and avocadoes, the process of grafting has now become farmer’s silver bullet in saving them from incessant pest and disease woes, and is now no longer confined to laboratories but being applied in farms across Africa, following moves by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and other NGOs to promote the practice among farmers.
With only a sharp razor blade, farmers are now growing two sets of plants in seed beds, the variety that they want for the fruit, and a special rootstock variety that grows strongly and is resistant to diseases and pests.
A group of Farmers in Eastern Kenya, pushed by the ever increasing price of pesticides, have developed home-made pest control solutions with impressive results., a practice they are teaching fellow farmers from Iringa area of Tanzania, a move that has assisted them to recover 60 per cent of the crop they were losing to pests,
The more than 100,000 Kenyan farmers grappling with locusts that have been blamed for destroying thousands of tonnes of farm crops have now been pointed to a simple and cheap solution by a survey that has shown that the locusts cannot thrive on plants fertilised with nitrogen.
"Nitrogen fertiliser, which plants use to make protein, may be an inexpensive, more environmentally friendly pest control solution for this species," said the lead author of the study, Arianne Cease, a researcher at Arizona State University in the US.
It is believed that most herbivores, including insects, are limited by the availability of nitrogen-rich protein in their diets. The scientists found in field observations that locusts were less likely to survive in fields that were fertilised with nitrogen, and that their density was highest in the most heavily grazed fields, which were dominated by plants with low nitrogen content.
Laboratory experiments further proved that locusts preferred to eat plants with low nitrogen content.
The study further found that soil erosion and overgrazing could enhance locust swarms since they lead to loss of topsoil and nitrogen.
“What this, therefore, means is that farmers don’t have to spend fortunes in synthetic fertilisers like they have always done. In fact, locally available nitrogen fertilizers, including organic ones and even cow dung, which are cheap, saves them from the locust menace,” said Doctor Ayub Ochieng from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology.
Desert Locusts can destroy crops quickly because they eat so much. An adult consumes roughly its own weight in food every day, while even a small section of an average swarm can eat as much food as 2,500 people every day.
Swarms average 40 million locusts and can eat up to 80 million tonnes of biomass a day.
Research has shown that if not detected and prevented early, the cost of controlling locusts and other pests from invading and destroying crops goes up by up to 15 times.
Certainly, n Kenyan farmer would want to relieve the nightmare of the locust invasion of 2007, when desert locusts from Ethiopia crossed to Kenya and descended on farms. Mandera town of North Eastern province, which had been struggling to be food secure, bore the brunt of the 2007 invasion. More than 200 farming families lost their vegetable and cereal crops, with many more losing their livestock, due to locusts invading their pasture.
The families were placed under relief aid for a whole year having lost everything on their farms.
However, scientists saw it as a wake up call and have been pushing for preparedness, as Kenya still remains vulnerable to more attacks due to its shared border with locust invested Ethiopia.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, for example, has been consistent in warning of the risks of a possible invasion by recently hatched locusts from Ethiopia, after locusts exhaust farms in Ethiopia.
A meeting convened last month bringing together agriculture ministers under the umbrella body International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Eastern Africa (IRLCO-CSA0) noted that the threat of locust invasion was still imminent and real, sounding an alarm about the catastrophic effects this would have on millions of livelihoods across the region.
‘Locusts and other migratory pests have shown time and again that they do not respect man-made political boundaries as they migrate from one country to another causing havoc to crops and livelihoods,’ said Gideon Ndambuki, Assitant Minister for Agriculture during the meeting.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
When the two sets reach a similar size where they produce a set of leaves, farmers cut the stem of both, and attach the scion plant - the plant they want the fruit from - to the rootstock plant attaching a clip or a clean polythene paper that holds them together. The two stems grow together and as the cut eventually heals a grafted plant flourishes.
The seeds of the now disease resistant plant acquire the same traits.
This is proving especially beneficial to farmers who rotate their crops, that they can grow their plant in any soil without worrying about soil-borne pathogens. After the graft is complete, the plants are kept in the dark for two- to four-days and gradually exposed to light for the next week or 10 days.
“The word of caution, however, is that you have to use clean tools like the razor blade or the knife and they need to be sharp. When you are cutting the stem, the plant is still at its infancy and susceptible to germs, which if introduced at that particular stage would mean the germs will affect their growth,” said Steve Karanja a scientist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Thika.
Karanja argues that grafting is effective, and cheaper than replanting, with grafting costing about 75 per cent less than putting in a new planting to achieve disease resistant plants.
Farmers are also recording impressive results in increased yield from grafted crops and in reduced dependence on pesticides.
Mbari ya Mboche farmers group in Kandara Division of Thika District have reaped the full benefits of grafting, having invested in it in their horticultural gardens. The growth of their market across both local and international sales saw them search for a farming method that would draw more returns, but with minimum investment in tackling pests, diseases and low quality crops.
They were introduced to grafting by a scientist at KARI Branch and have now transformed the output from their over 3 acres, as well as managing to conform with the stringent European regulation that require farmers exporting to the UK to embrace quality, traceability and conformity in horticulture farming.
Avocado is among Kenya’s most grafted plants and is in high demand as an export fruit.
More than four fifths of the avocado trees in Kenya are of the Fuerte variety that is relatively low in oil content but with superior disease resistant traits. Farmers are now learning how to graft it with the oil rich Hass variety that is in high demand globally. This guarantees an interrupted supply of the avocado.
“We used to have erratic harvesting patterns due to pests interfering with our plants. Our records now show that for the 24 months we have embraced grafting we have never had erratic harvesting cycles and we have recorded over 35 per cent increase in our harvests sold to exporters,” said Mwangi Ndege, chairman of the Mbari ya Mboche farmers group.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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