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    Front, the 3R potato undamaged and empty rows where conventional potatoes were planted but died due to late blight disease.

    By George Munene 

    The International Potato Center (CIP) is running trials and working on providing market access to genetically engineered potato varieties with complete resistance to late blight disease in Kenya and Nigeria  

    Caused by Phytophthora infestans, it is the most serious fungal disease of potatoes in Kenya resulting in output losses ranging from 10 per cent to total crop failure 

    The “3-R-gene LBR potato” will cut farmer losses, Sh32.85 billion ($250M) by 15 to 30 percent, and at least 90% of the current Sh1.97 billion ($15M) annual cost in fungicides. 

    The program run in conjunction with Michigan State University (MSU) has held confined lab and field trials in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda with the cultivar showing absolute resistance to late blight-- not tolerance-- minimizing the risk of the pathogen’s adaptation. 

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    The resistance (R) genes are located in wild potato relatives located in Mexico and Argentina which have evolved to be resistant to Phytophthora infestans. These strains are rare and not found in Africa. Their resistance is based on 3 R genes which makes it difficult for the fungi to develop resistance to all three genes. The researchers further pointed out that once the 3-R-gene LBR potato shows signs of being susceptible to the pathogen, a new biotech potato with different R genes will be deployed to replace it.  

    Traditional crossing and selection for late blight-resistant genes in these wild potato species would be impractical as it takes up to 46 years to introgress a single gene. 

    The potato is the second most cultivated crop in Kenya with cultivation largely focused in highland regions-- 1,200 to 3,000 m above sea level. Its actual production however still remains staggeringly low at 2-3 million metric tonnes per year against a potential to produce 8 to 10 million tonnes of potato. Rainfall variations, lack of clean seeds, and crop diseases have been fingered as the major challenges facing potato production in the country. 

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    According to CIP, the potato is the third most important food crop worldwide, and is the highest-yielding staple per acre, producing large amounts of energy-rich carbohydrates in less time and with less water than rice or wheat, as well as vitamin C, potassium, and phenolic compounds. Not being a globally traded commodity, its price is less vulnerable to food price spikes. These attributes make potatoes among the least expensive source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins necessary for good nutrition, which makes them an asset in addressing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

    Pic Courtesy: CIP 

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    In 2017, Kenya’s fresh produce to the European Union was intercepted 29 times due to infestation by pests such as leaf miners, bollworm,s and armyworms among others with the product having exceeded minimum pesticide limits of 10 per cent maximum residue level according to the Horticultural Crops Directorate.

    In developing countries such as Kenya, frequent exposure to pesticides by farmers and farm workers is very common. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimate pesticide poisoning rates at two to three people per minute. Pesticide-related health issues, therefore, poses threat to development and can easily reverse or undermine the gains made in agricultural growth.

    The Pest Control and Products Board is advocating for the correct usage of pesticides to maximize their benefits while at the same time minimizing risks.

    Farmers, therefore, are required to only use registered products by PCPB. Before buying a pesticide, ensure it bears a PCPB registration number on the label. The package should be intact and not leaking or tampered with. Read the product labels carefully and entirely before use and stick to the label instructions accordingly.

    Wear appropriate protective gear such as rubber gloves, gumboots, overalls, and respirators when mixing and applying pesticides. Gloves cost about Sh350, gumboots Sh700, and overalls Sh950.  Do not eat, drink or smoke while mixing or spraying pesticides and afterward wash your hands and the protective gear thoroughly with soap and water.

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    Safe pesticide application. Courtesy

    The major pests hindering the export of Kenya’s fresh produce include bollworms, leaf miners, and armyworms.

    The leaf miner causes 27 per cent rejection rate and affects flowers, French bean pods, and snow pea pods. It is identified by the presence of yellow lines, spots, or blotches on leaves caused by the larvae. A natural way instead of the use of chemicals in controlling leaf miners is by use of neem oil which affects the life cycle of the pest by killing the larva hence reducing their population.

    Armyworm accounts for less than five per cent of the total rejection cases in flowers. Natural ways farmers can reduce the impact include squashing the eggs or caterpillars when they see them.

    Bean thrips affect mango, banana, French beans, snow peas, flowers, and avocados. Thrips suck juices in plants turning them pale and discolored. They are controlled by uprooting and discarding infected plants. Also, remove weeds and grass to eliminate alternative hosts.

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                                                                    Trichotech is applied preventively – before diseases occur in the plants.

    Dudutech's biological solution for control of soil-borne fungal diseases in a bid to promote environmentally and socially intelligent farming at a time when 14,300 Kenyans are dying annually due to soil, air, and water pollution.

    The solution, trichotech, contains spores of soil-dwelling fungi that prevent potentially harmful microbes by providing a barrier to combat disease-causing fungi.

    In this, the solution produces chemical metabolites, which inhibit various developmental stages of plant disease-causing fungi in crops such as tomatoes and pepper.

    According to Dudutech, the biological solution produces enzymes that enable the fungus to invade and parasitize plant pathogenic fungi.

    This thus increases plant growth vigor by releasing locked nutrients from decaying organic matter; supplying nutrients to plant roots.

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    The application recommendations on plants vary depending on the target crop and method of application.

    In the case of drip irrigation, apply 125g of trichotech per hectare. The biological solution is added to five liters of water and mixed thoroughly. The suspension is then added into a large tank and the volume is increased to 1500 liters. It is then applied to plants using the drip system which ensures even distribution.

    For drench application, prepare a suspension of trichotech at the rate of 125g/ha in five liters of water and mix thoroughly. Add the mixture into a large drenching container and make up the volume of water to adequately cover the target area. Pour into a watering can or sprayer/applicator and apply evenly onto the target area.

    In-dip application is recommended as a pre-transplant application for rooted plants or cuttings. Prepare a paste of 125g/ha trichotech in 20 liters of water. Place rooted transplants/cuttings in a perforated crate and dip roots into the paste. Plant the seedling as soon as they are dipped.

    The biological solution should be stored in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight, and may be stored for up to six months in the original unopened container marinated at eight to 12 degrees Celsius.

    Related News: Neem leaves save Nakuru farms from pests

    Real gross value added in the agricultural sector grew at a decelerated rate of 1.6 per cent from Sh879.6bn in 2016 to Sh893.3bn in 2017. This was occasioned by drought, pests, and disease incidence which resulted in reduced crop and livestock production. Maize production declined from 37.8 million bags in 2016 to 35.4 million bags in 2017. Tea and coffee production decreased by 7.0 per cent and 11.5 per cent to 439.8 thousand tonnes and 40.8 thousand tonnes, respectively in 2017.

    Dudutech can be reached on +254 704 491 120  

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