Farmers trained on ways of fighting deadly mealybugs
Hit hard by invasion of mealybugs, the Tharaka Nithi County government is carrying out training ward by ward in an effort to manage the pest that is still wreaking havoc on farms.
Jasper Nkanya, the Agriculture executive, said the county is training farmers on the identification, control and prevention of the spread of mealybugs.
“The aim is to make farmers aware that the pest is in the area and they should be able to identify it and curb it,” he said.
In the training sessions, farmers are being shown the various control methods at all stages of mealybug growth, namely the nymph and adult.
The insect is said to exist in two types namely the long-tailed and the short-tailed. “The long-tailed mealybug requires a male for fertilisation of eggs while the short one does not. The long-tailed one doesn’t suck the sap and lives a very short period as its only function is to mate,” Hellen Muthengi, an agriculture ward officer told farmers, adding that wind is the main agent in spreading the insect.
Farmers were told to use pesticides as a last option, but were asked to employ organic methods that include soapy water with cooking oil. The oil makes the detergent to stick onto the leaves and stem.
Don’t neglect sweet potato, agro-experts tell government
Lack of policies to promote the development of sweet potato and other crops that are considered ‘orphaned’ has limited their production despite their huge export potential, agriculture experts have noted.
They observed that since the tuber is not a cash crop, it has been neglected.
Ann Kitisya of Mimea International Limited, a tissue culture enterprise, is among entities multiplying clean seeds.
“We classify the tuber into processing and table varieties. Processing types like the orange-fleshed have lower starch content and soft tissue while table varieties have higher starch content, are naturally more attractive – smooth skin and fewer eyelets,” Kitisya said.
However, she noted that the government should take the lead in promoting uptake of clean seeds by removing sweet potatoes from Schedule 11, a categorisation that mandates all nurseries to pay an annual registration fee of Sh75,000 to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.
“Small businesses cannot afford the stipulated fee, so they resort to hide-and-seek tactics as they operate illegal nurseries, a countermeasure to all the work we put into seed sanitisation and multiplication.”
Shira Mukiibi, the business development manager at BioInnovate Africa, said they are working with scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, farmers and community-based organisations, as well as policymakers.
“We are aiming at creating a seamless linkage along the sweet potato chain – clean seed, husbandry and value addition and marketing.”
The efforts are building on collaborative research that has over the years developed potato varieties for different eco-zones.
These include Kemb 10, SPK 004, KSP 20, KSP 11 and CIP-420009 for dry areas; SPK 013 for the western zone including the Lake Basin; Kemb 23 and Ex-Diani suitable for Central and coastal lowlands while Mafuta grows well in all producing areas and is best for foliage production.
The root comes in many colours – white, yellow, red, purple, or brown skin and white, yellow, orange, or orange-red flesh.
Sweet potato uses are legion. The tubers, vines and leaves are used as human food and feed for livestock.
Apart from the usual boiled and roasted menu, the roots can also be turned into savoury dishes when baked, grilled, mashed, chipped and even noodled.
Hosea Machuki, the chief executive of Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, said sweet potato has considerable export potential.
“There are inquiries for thousands of tonnage of the crop from the European Union but we have none. The current export quantity to the royal household is a pittance,” he said.