Potato cyst nematode (Globodera rostochiensis or G. rostochiensis) which is resistant to pesticides and persist in soil threatens the production of potatoes in Kenya.
The pest was last year first identified in Nyandarua County after potato and soil samples taken from the county were tested in Kenya and Germany confirmed the presence of the pest. The region produces more than 40 per cent of the potatoes produced in Kenya.
“There is no pesticide chemical or biological that is known to control the pest. The only control measure is to stop potato production in infested farms for up to 7 years,” said Mary Mwangi, a crop breeder at KALRO Embu.
The pest, however, can remain in the soil for more than 30 years. The potato pest may spread fast to other parts of the country because more than 90 per cent of potato growers in the country buy seed from neighbours.
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Many farmers in Nyandarua county also sell potato seeds to farmers in other parts of the country, increasing the possibility of rapid spread of the pest to other potato growing areas.
Agricultural scientists and researchers blame importation of potato seeds as the root cause of the pest saying the imported seeds have the potential to introduce new diseases and pests.
Kenya can only produce 2 per cent of the required certified potato seed, limited to this following the grabbing of land meant for research and potato seed multiplication, among other challenges.
Scientists at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) have noted with concern that some varieties of potato seed had been imported into the country without stringent checks by the Kenya Plant Health Inspection Service (KEPHIS).
These have the potential to introduce new diseases and pests into the country.
Any seed variety imported into Kenya has to undergo screening and quarantine protocols. This is meant to ensure the seeds do not introduce diseases and pests that could affect potato production.
In Africa, potato cyst nematodes have been reported in Northern African countries including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco (under quarantines). Other countries where the pest has been reported are Sierra Leone and South Africa where they are also controlled.