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    By George Munene

    200 Kenyan agriculture students will join Israeli Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, a center established to train agriculturalists from developing countries on advanced farming methods.

    The internship will encompass theoretical studies as well as practical training.

    Related News: Israeli AgriTech company brings digital irrigation to 500K Kenyan farmers

    Related News: Sh 5.1B agribusiness fund calling for 2400 women & youth applicants

    This training is part of a pledge made in 2020 by Israel to aid Kenya's agriculture sector weather the Covid-19 pandemic and help the country become food secure. 

    "The agri-training internship will provide knowledge that will help learners provide solutions to food security challenges upon their return to Kenya." said Deputy Ambassador of Israel Dvora Dorsman.

    At the end of their internship, the students who complete the program are given a chance to pitch their business ideas with the three best students having their agribusiness ideas being financed by The Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation.

    Related News: Kenyan agritech startup raises farmer incomes 170% by value addition & streamlined market access

    Through the length of their stay in the Middle Eastern country the learners will also get professional guided tours to give the students a rich experience of Israel.

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    By George Munene

    Using ar­ti­fi­cial and nat­ural nematicides small­holder farm­ers in Kenya can con­trol the potato cyst nem­at­odes (PCN), a pest that causes yield losses by at least 80 per cent.

    In a study of 20 potato grow­ing counties in Kenya Potato Cyst Nem­at­odes (PCNs) were ob­tained in 71.8 per cent of the counties with Nyandarua County at 47.6 per cent re­cord­ing the highest PCN field-incidence.​The situ­ation is fur­ther com­poun­ded by the fact the Shangi potato vari­ety grown by 65 per cent of farm­ers for its shorter dormancy and cook­ing time is the most sus­cept­ible to PCN.

    Pota­toes are the second most con­sumed food crop after maize in Kenya, however, pro­duc­tion has been on the de­cline: on a land­mass size of 133,532 hec­tares, the coun­try pro­duced 1.9 mil­lion tonnes of pota­toes in 2015. Over a cor­res­pond­ing period in 2017 however, Kenya's potato pro­duc­tion fell to 1.5 mil­lion tonnes off 192,341 hec­tares.

    With Nyandarua being the coun­try's potato bas­ket, ac­count­ing for up to 40 per cent of the  total pro­duc­tion of pota­toes, farm­ers in the county now pro­duce 18 bags, from ¼ acre, down from the pre­vi­ous 30 bags.

    Re­lated News; Kenya’s dead­li­est goat dis­ease cost­ing nearly Sh1/4m per 100 goats in Turkana

    Re­lated news: How to con­trol to­mato pests and dis­eases without use of pesti­cides

    PCN, first re­por­ted in Kenya in 2015, is clas­si­fied by KEPHIS as a quar­ant­ine pest (a pest sub­ject to of­fi­cial con­trol and reg­u­la­tion due to the po­ten­tial eco­nomic dev­ast­a­tion it may present to an area) can lie dormant in soils for up to 20 years and in­fects 82 per cent of pota­toes grown across 22 counties.

    Potato plants af­fected by the PCN ex­hibit the fol­low­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics:

    1. leaf dis­col­or­a­tion/yel­low­ing and wilt­ing
    2. root with cysts
    3. un­even tuber sizes on one potato plant
    4. re­duc­tion in the num­ber of roots
    5. dwarf­ing of potato tubers and the plant and, 
    6. re­duc­tion in the num­ber of crops

    The nem­at­odes caus­ing PCN are mi­cro­scopic worms, meas­ur­ing less than one mil­li­meter in size, mean­ing they are only vis­ible through a mi­cro­scope lens. As these symp­toms closely mimic water and nu­tri­ent de­fi­ciency in pota­toes, farm­ers are often left none the wiser on what is caus­ing a re­duc­tion in yields. 

    Re­lated News: Farm­ers’ Friend: con­trolling yel­low sig­a­toka (yel­low­ing dis­ease) in ba­na­nas

    Potato cyst nem­at­odes are spread by:

    1. Im­port­a­tion of in­fec­ted plants or plant ma­ter­i­als and
    2. loc­ally, by the spread of cysts through soil, wind, water and vehicles

    The total pro­duc­tion of basic potato seeds in Kenya stands at 6,700 met­ric tonnes, short of the 30,000 met­ric tonnes re­quired. Ac­cord­ing to KEPHIS, the in­formal sec­tor in Kenya ac­counts for about 70 per cent of potato seeds propag­ated by farm­ers across the coun­try, this makes the curb­ing of PCN al­most im­possible.

    The easi­est way of con­trolling potato cyst nem­at­odes is the use of nematicides, which are chem­ical pesti­cides used to kill plant-para­sitic nem­at­odes. Most nematicides are however burned for being toxic to the en­vir­on­ment. 

    Nematicides sold in Kenya in­clude:

    1. NEMATHORIN® 150EC
    2. Ad­ven­ture® 0.5% GR
    3. Alonze® 50EC
    4. Farmchance® 250 EC

    Stud­ies done in Kenya by sci­ent­ists from The In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Trop­ical Ag­ri­cul­ture have found that cov­er­ing potato plant­ing seeds with ba­nana paper laced with min­imal doses of pesti­cides dur­ing plant­ing de­ters PCN’s from reach­ing the potato seeds.

    In stud­ies by the Uni­versity of Flor­ida Food and Ag­ri­cul­tural Sci­ences Ex­ten­sion de­part­ment crop­ping in Marigold flowers into pota­toes/cab­bages has also been sci­en­tific­ally proven to re­duce nem­at­ode at­tacks as they act as an al­tern­at­ive host for the nem­at­odes, but pro­duce nat­ural com­pounds that act as nematicides. This kills the nem­at­odes pre­vent­ing them from breed­ing. In time, the nem­at­ode pop­u­la­tion slowly de­creases.

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    156918060 3827180970695423 300090371363423092 o

    By George Munene 

    Through the use of rip­per ploughs in con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture farm­ers are able to halve their pro­duc­tion cost while ad­vantaging them­selves in ways not ac­cess­ible to farm­ers prac­ti­cing tra­di­tional con­ven­tional ag­ri­cul­ture.

    “In con­ven­tional ag­ri­cul­ture, land pre­par­a­tion be­fore plant­ing en­tails first plough­ing, this in West­ern Kenya costs a farmer Sh3000 for every acre. This is then pre­ceded by a second plough­ing which costs a sim­ilar amount. After plant­ing farm­ers often prac­tice their first and second weed­ing; 10 hands can weed an acre of land with each paid Sh300 for the day's work. In all, this sets a farmer back Sh12,500,” ex­plains Geof­frey Wan­jala, a field ag­ro­nom­ist who is also Busia’s Farmer Ser­vice Cen­ters Senior Ag­ribusi­ness Co­ordin­ator. 

    With rip­ping, in con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture farm­ers are whit­tling down this to just Sh5,500 an acre. This con­sti­tutes Sh2,500 in charges for hir­ing a tractor-moun­ted rip­per; buy­ing herb­i­cides as well as the op­tion of hir­ing spray ser­vice pro­viders each cost­ing Sh500. In maize farm­ing, an ad­di­tional Sh1,500 is used in weed­ing herb­i­cides coupled with a sim­ilar Sh500 charge in spray­ing cost.

    Re­lated News: 300+ ex­ten­sion net­work helps farm­ers hack farm to mar­ket value chain

    Re­lated News:  Second-hand tract­ors open lower cost route for Kenyan farm­ers to mech­an­ise

    Rip­ping ser­vices are ac­cess­ible to farm­ers across the coun­try through satel­lite Farmer Ser­vice Centres avail­able in 12 counties across the coun­try. This is a net­work of over 300 ag­ri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers that help farm­ers ag­greg­ate their plough­ing land to make it com­mer­cially feas­ible for plough­ing ser­vice pro­viders to work on smal­ler land sizes. “We have availed this ser­vice to farm­ers across most counties in West­ern, Nyanza, Rift Val­ley and East­ern re­gions,” Wan­jala says.

    Moreover, con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture has many other ad­vant­ages that in­clude: pre­serving soil struc­ture and the in­tact­ness of soil mi­croor­gan­isms as the soil is min­im­ally tilled; in­creas­ing soil fer­til­ity; re­duc­tion of water erosion—rip­pers are fit­ted with tines that pen­et­rate the soil to a depth of up to 30 cen­ti­meters, this in­creases water per­col­a­tion and re­duces water run­off. Also, by per­for­at­ing deep into the soil pro­file, rip­ping gives crop roots ac­cess to leached min­er­als.

    Disk ploughs and hand-held hoes can only reach a depth of 10-15 cen­ti­meters, this cre­ates a hard­pan that en­cour­ages erosion when it rains by pre­vent­ing water from trick­ling into the soil. This hard­pan also causes lat­eral root­ing which means crops are eas­ily sus­cept­ible to drought.

    Mois­ture con­ser­va­tion in arid re­gions—de­com­pos­ing crop residue forms mulch which cools the en­vir­on­ment around the plant’s roots. It also provides warmth over the cold sea­son im­prov­ing crop per­form­ance.

    Rip­ping cre­ates fur­rows or rip lines where fer­til­isers and seeds are then sowed in manu­ally or through use of tractor moun­ted plant­ers. This fur­ther re­duces pro­duc­tion costs by elim­in­at­ing the need for dig­ging holes or fur­rows. “Once a farmer has con­duc­ted two or three rip­ping ses­sions which would have com­pletely broken soil hard­pans, they can en­tirely prac­tice zero till­age which ex­erts even less in plant­ing costs by totally doing away with plough­ing,” Em­manuel says.    

    Re­lated News: 1Acre Nyasi pro­gram—giv­ing live­stock farm­ers tools to repel drought

    Re­lated News: Solar in­sect light trap or­gan­ic­ally re­duces pests by 80%

    Rip­pers are however lim­ited in their use as they can­not be used to break ground for crops such as pota­toes which first re­quire to be ploughed ver­tic­ally with chisel ploughs to break hard pans be­fore rip­ping. 

    As more farm­ers em­brace the use of rip­ping in land pre­par­a­tion, Wan­jala ar­gues the tech­no­logy’s costs are only bound to re­duce; “rip­per moun­ted tract­ors con­sume less fuel than the ones fit­ted with disc ploughs. This makes their op­er­a­tion­al­isa­tion far cheaper for plough­ing ser­vice pro­viders. There is cur­rently a dearth of rip­per ploughs but as more farm­ers opt for the use of this tech­no­logy there is bound to be a cor­res­pond­ing in­crease in its ser­vice pro­vider which will lead to a re­duc­tion in the pri­cing of rip­ping ser­vices,” he ar­gues.

    Farmer Ser­vice Centre

    Geof­frey Wan­jala: 0710454130

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