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    By George Munene

    Through its Feed the Future global biotech potato partnership in Kenya and Nigeria the International Potato Center (CIP) is developing genetically engineered late blight-resistant potato varieties that will reduce farmer losses by 15 - 30 per cent and slush the current Sh1.8 billion annual cost in fungicides by at least 90%.

    In Kenya, late blight causes yield losses ranging from 10 per cent to absolute crop failure.

    According to CIP a 35 per cent adoption rate of these resistant potato varieties in Kenya and Nigeria could reduce total disease costs by an average of Sh29.1 billion ($239 million) annually.

    “Over the past decades, scientists have discovered resistance (R) genes in the potato’s wild relatives which stop late blight. Three R genes were introduced simultaneously into farmers' and consumers ‘preferred’ varieties from Kenya and Nigeria. The resulting potato cultivars combine characteristics that the market demands with strong and durable late blight resistance, which can reduce production costs by lowering or eliminating the need for fungicide applications, and reduce farmer exposure to those chemicals, in addition to significant potential benefits from increased yield,” read part of a statement from CIP.

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    The project which is funded by USAID and managed by Michigan State University (MSU) will contribute to the development, testing, and deployment of genetically engineered candidate 3Rgene LBR potato varieties in the two countries.

    The researchers will analyse the safety of the selected best-performing potato varieties for human health and the environment as well as communicate the benefits of commercialization of these potatoes. 

    CIP will also oversee the distribution of the potato seed to selected farmers as well as assist in their cultivation and marketing. They will also aid national scientists in developing new generations of these disease-resistant potatoes. 

    The research organisation will continue research on the identification of the best combination of bacterial wilt-resistant genes for future product development.

    Globally, potato late blight causes losses of Sh 818.4 billion ($6.7B) annually. 

    Related News: Makueni sweet potato farmers get ready market from Kenya’s first commercial microwave processing plant

    Per CIP; 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 it an asset in addressing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

    Credit: International Potato Center (CIP)

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    By George Munene

    According to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)-- an international agricultural research institute--, the agricultural sector accounts for over 60 per cent of the global increase in antimicrobial use. This makes it a leading contributor to antimicrobial resistance (AMR)-- an emerging global health threat.

    World Antimicrobial Awareness Week which is marked between 18 to 24 November, puts in focus what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared as amongst the top ten global public health threats facing humanity.

    According to a 2019 study, 4.95 million people died from illnesses related to AMR. 1.27 million of these deaths were directly caused by AMR. This is more deaths than HIV or malaria.

    Antimicrobial resistance is caused by the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials which leads to diseases becoming drug-resistant and the transmission of resistant genes/ bacteria across species.

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    Antimicrobials are crucial in agriculture as they treat bacterial diseases of plants such as wilts, leaf spots, blights, scabs e.t.c. In animals, they are even more crucial as they both treat and prevent infections as well as promote growth and enhance feed efficiency.

    They are passed from animals and plants to manure, irrigation systems, rivers, lakes, and slaughterhouses and disseminated to the environment, and processed foods.

    According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), long-term, excessive use or misuse of these drugs causes reduced food production leading to higher economic losses to farm households, and environmental contamination. 

    Repeated application of soils with manure or water-containing antimicrobial agents (AMA) results in a reduction of soil beneficial bacteria contributing to deteriorating soil quality. Crucially, the soil itself becomes a store for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

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    The cost of antimicrobial resistance to economies is significant. In the short and medium term, AMR leads to death and disability, and prolonged illnesses in both people and animals. It also results in longer hospital stays, requiring more expensive medicines. 

    In the long term, ineffective antimicrobials jeopardise the success of modern medicine in treating infections, including during major surgery and cancer chemotherapy. In agriculture, it makes soils increasingly unfertile.

    Photo Credit: International Livestock Research Institute

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    Coccidiôze sblarixhaedje houfès plomes

    Coccidiosis' global impact is estimated at Sh36.5 billion ($300 million) causing poor performance, morbidity, and mortality. 

    Coccidiosis is a disease caused by a parasite that affects the gut wall of chickens. The parasite lives in the gut and is transferred to others chickens when it is released through feaces from an infected chicken in the form of a cyst.

    The cycle of infection continues when it’s then eaten by another chicken thus spreading the disease. Depending on the number of cysts eaten a chicken may not be affected especially if they are few. If too many are eaten the chicken will succumb to Coccidiosis.

    Early signs of Coccidiosis include loss of appetite among the flock which eventually stop eating. They then become hunched over with ruffled feathers. The damage to the gut wall reduces the ability of the gut to absorb nutrients resulting in weight loss and diarrhea with bloody chicken droppings.

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    The best way of preventing the disease is by poultry farmers ensuring that chickens are exposed to very low levels of the disease (oocysts) as well as building their immunity. Chicken pens should be cleaned well and extremely thoroughly between flocks. If a pen is not cleaned properly after the flock leaves the pen then the next flock is exposed to high levels of Coccidiosis.

    Poultry farmers with infected birds can treat them using an anti-coccidial medication that prevents the spread of the disease. If the disease is already in the gut then farmers should treat their birds using strong antibiotic therapy. Ensure that the flock has access to multivitamins and probiotics.

    Related News: Fact sheet on commercial kienyeji chicken management

    In order for one to guard their flock against any outbreaks that in most cases result in immense losses, experts advise farmers to embrace high standards of hygiene by ensuring that the poultry pen is kept clean and dry. In addition, disinfect the pen regularly; ensure good ventilation in and around the pen.

    A vaccine is available commercially, however, its administration can be complex and needs the correct environment to work, realistically this is not currently practical for backyard chicken holdings.

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