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Asian crops gain popularity with Kenya horticulture because
of both disease resilience and fast rising markets demand

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenyan farmers are embracing various Asian crop varieties to curb diseases and earn more as the market for the produce grows, writes BEDAH MENGO.

To curb diseases, the farmers are grafting local crop varieties with those from Asia that have a longstanding record of being resistant to stubborn diseases.

A tomato variety that originates from Asia known as Cheong Gang has become popular with Kenyan farmers seeking to eliminate the deadly bacterial wilt disease.

Bacterial wilt, which is soil-borne, ravages acres of tomatoes across the East African nation every year, heaping losses on Kenyan farmers and cutting supply.

The disease does not spare both farmers growing the crop in the field and in greenhouses, making quite a number of them abandon the agribusiness.

For those farming in greenhouses, some have been going at great lengths to source for soil that they consider virgin and disease-free from forests to grow the crops.

Others have turned to expensive soil treatment process like soil solarization and use of chemicals to kill the soil-borne pathogens.

"I graft Cheong Gang tomato variety with the local Anna F1 to curb bacterial wilt.

"I have been doing it for the last two years and the results have been excellent," said Collins Kipkorir, a tomato farmer in Nakuru, on Monday.

During the grafting, he uses the Asian variety as the rootstock because of its ability to resist bacterial wilt and other diseases and the local variety is used as the scion because of its high production.

Kipkorir starts the process by first planting the two varieties of tomatoes in seedbeds separately and once they acquire about four leaves, he uproots the two at the same time, cuts each into two parts and grafts the scion to the rootstock.

"The resultant product is a plant that is not only high-yielding but also tough on diseases making me earn more.

"I learnt of the Asian variety during a farmers’ field day in Nakuru and the good thing is that it is available locally," said Kipkorir, who farms in a greenhouse, adding that he gets about 8 kg of tomatoes per plant.

Cheong Gang is acclaimed for its resistant to bacterial wilt and its rootstock is globally used in the fight against the disease, according to Caroline Mutua, a crop specialist at Egerton University.

She noted grafting helps not only control diseases like bacterial wilt and fusarium wilt but also boost yields.

Farming of pak choi, a Chinese vegetable, is also picking up in Kenya, as the number of citizens from the Asian nation in Kenya grows.

The vegetable that belongs to the same family as spinach and cabbage is mainly grown in Limuru and Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi, and is sold to Chinese restaurants in the city.

Other places where it is grown also have cool temperatures which are ideal for the crop.

"I am currently farming pak choi on quarter acre and sell the produce at a city market in Nairobi and to a Chinese businessman," said Benson Kiboi, a farmer.

Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Nairobi-based consultancy Agro-Point, noted that two things are making Asian varieties popular in Kenya, the first being their proven disease tolerance and high yields and second, growing nationals from the region in the country.

"Crops like mint, thyme and turmeric are becoming popular with Kenyan farmers because of the growing community of Chinese and Indians.

"Some of the foreigners are even farming themselves for export or for the local market at Chinese restaurants," she said.



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