Super nets spur plants' growth

agronetsVegetable and fruit farmers in the country may have struck gold with the emergence of a new variety of nets that not only reduce the usage of pesticides by over 90 percent but also enhance fast maturity of the crops through their proliferation of the formation of chlorophyll. This revelation is worthwhile especially to French Beans farmers as it comes at a time when many horticulture farmers in the country have failed to access the lucrative European market due to not complying with the regulations regarding Maximum Residue Levels due to their intense usage of pesticides.

Dubbed agronets, the agro products penetrated into the Kenyan market in the late 2013 targeting smallholder horticulture farmers whose crops are devastated by pests and at the same time cannot afford the more costly greenhouse alternatives. Having witnessed paramount success with the nets in the neighboring Tanzania, A-Z; the firm manufacturing the nets decided to widen its frontier and tap into the Kenyan agribusiness sector. According to Jeremiah Mande Head of distribution for the product in Kenya, the introduction of the product comes at the back of many smallholder farmers’ suffering and therefore the group’s quest to provide an affordable long lasting solution that increases output and helps them reduce on pesticide usage.

Agronet can be used on a wide range crops especially horticulture like kales, cabbages, strawberry among others. Jeremiah noted that the nets protect the crops from almost all forms of pests like aphids, caterpillars and the notorious fruit fly. Farmers who use the nets for their crops not only register increased yields by about 20 percent but also improved quality as the crops are not damaged by the pests. Scientists from KARI, Egerton University and ICIPE have collaborated with others from Tanzania (The Africa Technical Research Centre, A to Z R&D body) to test products developed and manufactured by the Tanzanian company. Results indicated that Tomato net, the AgroNet recommended for growing tomato by A to Z, gave between 25percent and 52percent more yield than non-covered plants and 20-30percent higher than non-covered chemically sprayed tomatoes. Similar trends also reflected on Cabbage nets.

The concept which almost resembles the human use of mosquito nets to guard them against Malaria disease is gaining momentum among smallholder horticulture farmers. “Plants are like human and if not well catered for, then they are affected by the pests and diseases which ultimately reflects on the low yields and the worst case scenario they end up dying; Therefore the nets will try to mitigate them against the shocks from such pests and guarantee better yields,” noted Jeremiah.  Despite the nets being introduced recently, Jeremiah has had an encouraging response from the farmers with over 500 already being purchased.

The size and the type of the net entirely depends on the type of crop to be planted with cabbage and kales using a net that has slightly larger pores of about 0.9ml compared to the tomato net that has pores of about 0.4ml thick. Although the products are made from similar materials, the thickness of the pores attribute determines the price as the tomatoes agronet of 30m by 5.5m retails at about Sh12,500 while a similar size for cabbage goes for about Sh8,500. Jeremiah justifies the cost of the nets arguing that the reduced usage of pesticides and the longer shelf life of over five years make an economic sense in the pricing.

The clear nets, according to Jeremiah can allow transfer of over 90 percent of the sunlight and is washable making it easy to use for most farmers. Farmers using the net should commence right from the time when the crops are in the nursery beds. The design and mode of use entirely depends on the farmers’ choice. However Jeremiah noted that, for maximum desirable results, farmers using the nets should build greenhouse like structure with curved roofing to allow drainage in case of the rains. The size of the net will depend on the structures and size of land under cultivation. Jeremiah explained that the net structures can be used by farmers as an alternative for the otherwise more costly greenhouse. “We have conducted research that all the greenhouse seed varieties of fruits and vegetables can all do well in these structures and therefore encourage the farmers to adopt them. We have already planted Tomato Tylka F1 variety in Eldoret and Meru and got all the desired results,” added Jeremiah.  He also noted that the open air nature of the net allow the best temperature regulation conditions which are good for the crops inside.

Farmers are also advised to use the drip type of irrigation while using the nets although this will depend highly on the climatic conditions of the area. Any farmer using the nets is also protected from the shocks of heavy rains or hailstorms. Sane Livingstone a farmer in Rongai explained how useful the nets are when it comes to guarding to his tomatoes. “I have integrated the nets and greenhouse use. I use the nets on the sides of my greenhouse and apart from temperature regulation to the crops inside the structure; my tomatoes are healthier and register up to 30 percent increase in the yields.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by a 38 year old Bendetto Wandeto from Mathira in Nyeri County whose use for agronet have not only enabled him register increased yields in horticulture but land lucrative markets. “I accidentally landed the agronets through my sister when I was thinking of acquiring my second greenhouse. I planted Cauliflower and because of the near zero usage of pesticides in the nets, my crops met the Maximum Residue levels a fact that enabled me to easily access the lucrative British Army Training school in Nanyuki whom supply with about 200kgs daily.” Having earlier on used a greenhouse, Wandetto noted that agronets are three times cheaper than the greenhouse and their proper usage guarantees even better yields.