Passion fruit farmers urged to plant certified seedlings

Passion fruit farmers have been encouraged to use clean and certified planting materials and adopt good agricultural practices to increase yield and income.

Experts from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation cautioned farmers from buying seedlings from uncertified roadside nurseries as this is equivalent to investing in a losing venture.

Kalro Kandara Horticultural Research Institute research assistant Grace Watani said tree seedlings from roadside nurseries could transfer diseases and pests onto their farms. She said farmers should conduct intensive research on the crops they want to grow.

“The government cannot have hundreds of its citizens investing in a crop capable of raking in billions of shillings in local and international markets without the assurance of providing clean and well-researched planting materials to ensure better production and food security,” Watani said.

She said besides research, the government is collaborating with other organisations to bring in more actors to produce clean planting materials.

Watani said Kalro Kandara is leading a team of agronomists in propagating passion fruit to produce seedlings for the two main passion fruit types in Kenya –  purple and yellow varieties.

The process starts at the level of getting a rootstock, to well-researched block of plants where they get scions for propagation all the way to ready seedlings for replanting on the farms.

A scientist at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation Njoro branch shows a sample of an infected passion fruit plany

Ali Abbas Qazilabash said clean planting materials ensure better and healthier crops. He is an international expert in technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures at the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.

He said these crops produce good yield and hardy plants that are resistant to diseases and environmental stress.

Qazilabash also said the European Union-funded Market Access Upgrade Project (MARKUP) has partnered with Kalro to enhance production and sufficient supply of clean seeds for passion fruit and nuts.

He said MARKUP project is working with its partners not only to propagate and produce clean planting materials, but also to work with nurseries and extension officers in the counties to ensure farmers have affordable access to these specific clean planting materials.

“The project aims to improve market access by upgrading the quality of passion fruits, macadamia, groundnuts and mangoes among others. This can only be achieved by ensuring that farmers plant quality seeds, seedlings or suckers to ensure healthy crops, higher yield and produce goods compliant with basic market requirements,” Qazilabash said.

He said the project includes indexing, cataloguing of these materials for future use, as well as training county officials to help with further propagation and marketing of these materials.

“This allows farmers easy and affordable access to these materials free of disease and pests and competitive prices regardless of their location,” Qazilabash added.

He said MARKUP has been running awareness campaigns to address challenges in passion fruit production, post-harvest handling and production of market-oriented fruits.

“Farmers are trained on good agricultural practices and encouraged to use specified clean planting materials as well as capacity building for extension officers on dissemination of information and programmes for growers,” Qazilabash said.

At Kalro Njoro Plant and Disease Diagnostics and Surveillance Unit, another group of experts is researching on disease and pest management of all the major fungi, bacteria and viruses affecting passion fruit. They also produce tissue culture seedlings

Lead scientist John Ndung’u said while it is the duty of Kalro to research on crops and diseases, the institution cannot produce sufficient seedlings for farmers.

He said that is where MARKUP comes in to collaborate on training farmers and commercial tree nursery operators to massively generate clean seeds.

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