The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) has launched a new high yielding fast maturing coconut variety for Kenyan Coast farmers.
The new hybrid variety, a cross between the conventional tall coconut variety and the dwarf variety – is bound to change the fortunes of families at the coast as it takes about three years to mature and produces 250 – 300 nuts annually as opposed to the tall variety which takes five to seven years and produces an average of 100 nuts annually.
The coconut, described as the ‘sleeping giant sub-sector’, is the lifeblood of the coastal counties – Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Mombasa – with 100,000 families dependent on the crop for their livelihood.
The coconut sub-sector contributes an estimated 1.5 per cent to the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 0.4 per cent of Kenya’s GDP. Coconuts are known to be the source of more than 120 products which support livelihood in nutrition, housing and health. In 2017, Kenya produced 124,000 tonnes of coconuts according to the Economic Survey 2018 report.
5,000 seed nuts were brought into Kenya from India in December 2018 and planted in a quarantine site under KEPHIS supervision at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Matuga in Kwale County. To date, 2,137 have germinated and are ready for transplanting to open quarantine at the research station while others shall be distributed to selected farmers in Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi Counties.
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The conventional tall coconut variety (left) and right is the new hybrid coconut variety. Photo Courtesy: KEPHIS
The process of importing the hybrids started in 2017 when officials from KEPHIS conducted a pest risk analysis on hybrid coconuts from India to determine the phytosanitary (plant health) risks associated with importation of seed nuts and the subsequent management measures to be put in place.
Upon completion of the pest risk analysis, Kenya through KEPHIS and the Government of India signed a Memorandum of Understanding to allow for importation of the hybrid coconut seedlings. Once imported from India, the seedlings were planted under KEPHIS supervised closed quarantine facilities in Matuga for close observation before transplanting. Samples were drawn from the seedlings for disease analysis in KEPHIS molecular laboratory for the presence of the Yellowing Necrosis Disease, a process that found no trace of the disease.
Speaking during the transplanting ceremony, KEPHIS MD Dr Esther Kimani urged the farmers to report any plant diseases to KEPHIS or agricultural officers in the county for advice on mitigation measures. She also reiterated the need for stakeholders to get a Plant Import Permit (PIP) before importing any plants into the country.
Improving coconut’s value chain is expected to increase the sub-sector income from the current annual income of Sh12bn to Sh25bn.