Farmer practices have been identified as the greatest drivers of the severity and management of bacterial wilt and root knot nematodes, which pose the biggest threat to tomato production in high tunnel (popularly known as ‘greenhouses’) tomato farming in Kiambu County.
According to a survey conducted by researchers from JKUAT and collaborators led by Dr. Lucy Kananu Murungi from the Department of Horticulture, in six sub-counties of Kiambu County (Gatundu North, Gatundu South, Juja, Thika, Ruiru and Kiambu), established that most farmers lacked training on proper practices that reduce the impact of root knot nematodes and bacterial wilt in greenhouse production.
During the forum, the researchers who included Masters of Science students shared their findings conducted under a study titled: “Manipulating the soil ecosystem for the management of bacterial wilt and root knot nematodes in high tunnel tomato production in Kenya.” Poor practices within the tomato production value chain such as seedling acquisition, soil testing, irrigation water, fertilization among others were identified as the key determinants of the yield and quality of produce.
“Soil testing should be a prerequisite before any crop is established” explained, Dr. Vitalis Wekesa.
This was part of the revelations made at KALRO (Horticulture Institute of Research) – Kandara, Wednesday, June 21, during a stakeholders’ forum that brought together over 54 representatives from academia, county crops office, research institutions and tomato farmer groups.
KALRO Center Director, Dr. Jesca Mbaka underscored the significance of such an interaction and thus termed it timely, reiterating it was the way to go so that the farmers could utilize and benefit from expert knowledge held by researchers.
At the highly engaging and interactive forum, it was reported that most farmers had experienced various challenges which, overally, had undermined their potential to attain optimum tomato production.
For instance, some farmer groups had totally abandoned tomato farming for alternative, less susceptible crops such as onions, despite the high costs that were incurred in constructing the greenhouses.
To illustrate the severity of lack of knowledge, some farmers had attributed bacterial wilt to superstitious beliefs leading to the isolation of one of the farmers from accessing the greenhouse.
However, the farmers appreciated the research team for addressing the knowledge gap through farmer visits and information sharing, noting that they look forward to similar close interactive sessions in the hope that they would apply the attitudes, knowledge and skills gained to make substantial contribution to food security in Kiambu County and the country at large.
The two-year study which was funded by the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) started in July, 2015 with a strong capacity building component that aimed at improving the food and nutritional security in Kenya.
The research team is also pursuing bacterial wilt and root knot nematode management options from organic sources that are affordable and environmentally friendly.