Grafted passion helps farmer dodge deadly disease

One passion fruit farmer in Meru has dodged a deadly fungal disease by growing grafted seedlings on his one-acre piece of land.

Morris Koome says that as much as purple passion fruits are fashionable and marketable, Fusarium wilt can wipe an entire farm out just before one starts reaping back from the sweat of investment.

The disease, which is causes by Fusarium oxysporum fungus, attacks  stems and leaves and causes death of the entire plant within four and 14 days.

Koome found out that the less referred yellow passion fruit is more tolerant to the fungus, and he 'married' the two to get a hybrid that is now both marketable and less susceptible to the disease.

“Fusarium wilt loves passion fruits. This variety is loved most by consumers because of high content of juice besides appealing appearance. But it is overwhelmed quickly. I am combining yellow and purple varieties to get a hybrid,” he said.

In the grafting, Koome uses the yellow root stalk and the purple variety scion.
High yields
"One passion stem gives between five and 10 kg per week when the plant is at its peak. With proper management practices, I harvest 10 kg to 15 kg per week from the same stem," he says.

Given that the yellow breed is more rigorous in growth, the farmer and propagator says, the hybrid matures quickly and with more healthy branches for the fruits. First and second harvests are highest, with a decline in the third year.

Koome, who propagates and sells the seedlings to farmers at Sh50 each, says that one requires at least 1,000 stems to cover one acre.

Facts on Fusaruim wilt

The disease commonly attacks adult plants with the first sign being slight withering and drying of the branch tips. The plant will die within 14 days.

Internal darkness from the stem base, root rot as well as cracks at the stem bases are evidences of the disease attack.

United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation describes the disease, which also attacks bananas, as one of the most destructive infection.

It is hard to control even with the available copper-based fungicides and can last for decades in soil. 

Besides using diseases free seedlings, the agency recommends restriction of movement of soil from one place to another.

High standards of field hygiene may help combat further spread.