News and knowhow for farmers

Researchers grow pest free yams in the air

Aeroponics technology which involves growing plants in air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium and which has been common in Kenya has received another heads up with scientists in Nigeria successfully growing yam seeds in the air.

 The discovery could open doors to cultivation of more crops under the technology saving farmers the agony of pests that are responsible for upto 40 percent of all crop losses. IITA scientists led by Dr. Norbert Maroya, Project Manager for the Yam Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) project, together with a team of scientists engaged in the research formally unveiled the outcome of their research breakthrough on successfully growing seed yams in the air using aeroponics technology. The team had successfully propagated yam by directly planting vine cuttings in Aeroponics System (AS) boxes to produce mini-tubers in the air.

Results have showed that vine rooting in aeroponics system had, at least, 95 per cent success rate compared to vine rooting in carbonised rice husk with a maximum rate of 70 per cent and the rooting time was much shorter in aeroponics system.
Maroya added, “With this approach, we are optimistic that farmers will begin to have clean seed yams for better harvest.”

Traditionally, seed yam production is expensive and inefficient. Farmers save about 25 to 30 per cent of harvest for planting the same area in the following season. However, these seeds are often infested with pathogens that significantly reduce farmers’ yield year after year. Researchers said that with an established aeroponics system for seed yam growth, yam producers can have access to clean seed yams.

The soilless yam propagation system will increase the productivity of seed and ware yam and effectively reduce diseases and pests incidence and severity (no soilborne or vector-transmitted pests and diseases during the vegetative phase.
This new technology now means that more important African crops that have been neglected due to their vulnerability to pest and disease attacks can now make a comeback.

Venanzio Gakira a scientist in Nairobi said that the breakthrough that the aeroponics technology is recording could now rekindle the farmers’ passion in going back to even crops that they no longer touch due to investing so much of their time in planting and tending to them only to reap dismal yields due to incessant pest and disease. “Crops like cabbages, oranges or tomatoes can now be grown easily and without much attention if we make more breakthroughs in the aeroponics technology,” he said.

In Kenya where potato is regarded as the second most important food crop after maize, employing more than 2.5 million people, and having a higher yield per square metre than maize the upgrade to aeroponics technology has been music to farmers who have embraced it.

Each plant is capable of producing 50 tubers. This amounts to 30,000 tubers produced in six months. Farmers who have planted 5,000 of the tubers on a piece of land have harvested 14 bags of 50 kilogrammes each on the first harvest with the second and third generation harvests yielding 140 and 1,400 bags respectively.

With each 50kg bag averaging Sh1,000 at the market, farmers are making as much as Sh1.4 million.

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