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    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.

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    The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has unveiled new poultry vaccines with a longer shelf life, and which do not require refrigeration to store, making it easy for almost 80 per cent of poultry farmers in the country to effectively prevent common deadly viral diseases.
    Dubbed thermos stable, these vaccines are capable of withstanding fluctuating temperatures, while still maintaining their potency unlike ordinary vaccines in the market which must be stored in refrigerators lest they become ineffective.
    The vaccines, which were developed by the Kenya veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI), in collaboration with KALRO’s Non-Ruminant Research Centre, are made from superior protein molecules, making them resistant to heat, light, radiation and changes in the environment.
    According to Dr. David Miano of KALRO Kakamega, thermos stable vaccines for various poultry vaccines including Newcastle, Fowl Typhoid, fowl Pox and Gumboro are already in the market with 3 million doses already sold by yesterday.
    The innovation of these high tech vaccines is good news especially to smallholder farmers and agrovet operators in rural Kenya who lack access and cannot continuous supply of energy source like electricity required refrigeration. A recent World Bank survey shows that only 23 per cent of the country’s population is connected to the power grid with rural Kenya which accounts for 76 per cent of chicken in the country registering only 5 per cent.
    A 2014 study, vaccine handling and administration among poultry farmers in Nigeria published in the Scholars Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences shows that 50.83 per cent of respondents in rural areas experience vaccine fail on their poultry, an aspect mostly blamed on contamination due to poor storage measures.
    A dose of these unique vaccines costs only Sh2 and can be bought either from KALRO offices in Naivasha and Kakamega or at the Kenya veterinary Vaccines Production Institute in Kabete.

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    Irish potato farmers may soon enjoy high returns if the Government approves the commercialisation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods following the successful laboratory engineering of a variety resistant to late blight disease.

    International Potato Centre's (CIP) senior biotechnologist Marc Ghislain said trials on varieties, Uganda's Victoria and Désirée from Kenya have been successful.

    “We tried GMO and non-GMO Irish potatoes. Both were grown on a piece of land known to host the fungi. The GMO variety remained green and the harvest was plenty. The normal variety did not survive,” he said.

    The test was done in western parts of Uganda where farmers are making losses to this fungal disease.

    CIP worked in collaboration with National Agricultural Research Organisation's Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KZARDI), at Kabale.

    The transgenic variety was obtained by picking blight resistant genes from wild relatives of Irish potatoes found in Peru, South America.

    The trial was done in June 2015 and harvesting in September the same year.

    If the government approves growing of GMO, farmers, mostly in high altitudes where the disease causes losses of more than 50 per cent would benefit greatly.

    Irish potato is considered the second staple food for in Kenya.

    Low temperatures and dew or rainfall accelerate the fungi spread, attacking leaves, stems and tubers.

    It also attacks tomatoes

    Late blight on potato is identified by black or brown lesions on leaves and stems that may be small at first and appear water-soaked or have chlorotic borders, but soon expand rapidly and become necrotic. 

    As many lesions accumulate, the entire plant can be destroyed in only a few days after the first lesions are observed.

    Dr Ghislain said more trials will be done to confirm the results in addition to ensuring compliance to requirements as discussions on lifting the ban on GMOs go on.

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