Vanguard farmers are courting unique covers that protect their tender crops from direct sunlight, birds and pests at a time when scientists posit that upto 60 percent of crops are destroyed between their first and second month due to vulnerability.
The covers dubbed crop row covers are usually made of light, permeable materials to allow for some access of sunlight by the crops. Farmers are recording upto 40 percent yield increase with this practice which is especially gaining root among horticultural produce like tomatoes and kale.
Miriti Njemwa from Igembe area of Meru county is one such farmer. Using a polyester row covers he lays them loosely on top of plants supporting some with wire hoops. Njemwa has been a fresh produce farmer for the last five years but has borne the brunt of thrips and black moth some of the most notorious horticultural pests. “In my two acres piece of land about 40 percent of all my yields would be lost especially through pest infestations when the crops were young. If they survived that they would be devoured by birds and chicken from the neighbours,” recalled Njemwa.
But the row covers have made all these a thing of the past. By allowing air, water, and up to 85 percent of ambient light to pass through they have also been an excellent barrier against damage by a wide range of pests. “You can cover newly seeded beds or pest-free transplants with floating row covers, leaving plenty of slack in the material to allow for growth. Be sure to bury the edges in the soil or seal them in some other way. Otherwise, pests will sneak in and thrive in the protected environment,” added Njemwa.
It is an innovation that is first picking up with members of Sunshine farmers group in Igembe constituency pioneering the practice and reaping from it.
And there is no limit in what type of crop farmers can use. “It has been a trial and error venture since we started with the polyesters as crop covers. However we have learnt a great deal. And we no longer have to deal with pests and birds anymore,” said Mihika Nyagaki another farmer.
Farmers using the row cover crops are however advised to use light material that allows light to permeate through and that isn’t too heavy on the crops that it inhibits their growth. “This is a great technology and is greatly replacing the use of pesticides and hours used in manning farms from birds. However it needs caution considering that the crops in question are still tender and requires light and great care to grow,” said Dr. Mwathi Kiume an agricultural extension officer working with the farmers.