New R&D and private sector partnership to tackle nematode pests
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), and Syngenta have jointly commenced efforts to enable the Kenya flower industry to deal more effectively with nematode pests — minute and extremely destructive soil dwelling worms.
“Our initiative resonates with the sector’s ambitions to solidify local and global positioning of the so-termed Kenya flower brand, amidst a range of emerging opportunities and challenges,” noted Victor Juma, Business Manager East Africa, Lawn and Garden - Syngenta East Africa Limited.
Opportunities and challenges
The flower industry, one of Kenya’s most important, earns the country around $0.8 billion annually, providing employment for more than 500,000 people, and impacting over two million livelihoods. Prospects remain largely positive, with the country’s market share in the European Union expected to rise by 2%, to 40%, in 2018. Kenya is also anticipated to expand its flower trade to over 45 countries in Australia, Eastern Europe and the Far East. Should these goals be realised, the country will surge to second position, coming after the Netherlands, among flower exporters worldwide.
Still, Kenya’s standing as a leading flower exporter is not without contest, threatened over the recent past by rising competition from an ever-increasing number of producers, and climate change, among several factors. In response, the sector is exploring and optimising ways to produce the best quality and quantity of flowers. This endeavour is entrenched in renewed vigour for adherence to local and international standards and guidelines, to ensure sustainability, responsibility and safety in flower cultivation, guided by aspects like good agricultural practices, environmental protection and conservation, as well as capacity building.
Flowers and nematodes
“Against this scenario, the ability of the flower industry to tackle pests proficiently is a significant component,” observed Laura Cortada-Gonzalez, soil health and nematology researcher, IITA. “While the impact of most other pests is evident, the effect of nematodes is less obvious and remains a hidden, yet real threat that reduces and compromises flower yield quality and quantity. For example, 17% of all cut roses produced in Kenya is lost to nematodes leading to a financial deficit of €19,580 per hectare. Moreover, an additional €2150 per hectare is spent each year in attempts to manage nematode pests.”
The activities by IITA, icipe and Syngenta to address nematodes in the flower industry started with an awareness and training session held recently at Interplant Roses East Africa Ltd in Naivasha — Kenya’s premier floriculture region — attended by over 90 participants including production and farm managers, plant pathologists and agronomists from across the country.
Through practical field demonstrations, structured presentations and highly interactive discussions, the team provided background information on nematodes, for example, basic knowledge on their biology and life cycle. The damage and symptoms caused by nematodes was also outlined: primarily that the pests infect plant roots causing direct yield loss through destruction of root tissue and by preventing water and nutrient uptake. In addition, nematodes indirectly lead to secondary fungal or bacterial infections as a consequence of wounds caused by the pests feeding on plant roots. Moreover, participants were enlightened on proper detection and sampling of nematodes; important information towards countering frequent misdiagnoses of damage by the pests as nutritional disorders or water stress. Further, the presenters emphasised the wide range of plant species and plant types affected by certain species of nematodes, and the immense economic impact they are capable of causing.
Solutions for management
“The complexity of the nematode species, fast reproduction, astonishing range of crops and plant species and their involvement in disease transmission, means that there is no silver bullet for the control of these pests,” said Danny Coyne, soil health scientist, IITA.
Solveig Haukeland, nematologist, icipe, added: “Against this background, our recommendation for the nematode challenge is the use of integrated pest management, or IPM, an approach that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of effective and environmentally sensitive techniques, and minimal use of pesticides. Between them, icipe, IITA and Syngenta have developed a range of IPM approaches that may be useful to the flower industry.”
The event rounded off with a presentation on entomopathogenic nematodes, which are harmful to insects, and therefore hold potential benefits for insect pest control. “Entomopathogenic nematodes harbour insect killing bacteria, which are released by the nematode upon entering the insect body, killing the insect within 48 hours,” noted Dr Haukeland. “By exploiting these nematodes, effective biological control options against susceptible insect pests have been developed across the world. We are conducting studies to investigate how we can harness and exploit these to benefit farmers in Kenya and across Africa.”
“This awareness and training session demonstrated a rewarding and refreshing example of research and development, public and private partners combining forces for the greater benefit of the agricultural in general, and the horticultural sector in particular,” said Dr Coyne. “The positive response from the Kenyan floriculture community, seen in their overwhelming attendance and active participation, provides strong evidence of the interest in these neglected and little understood, yet devastating pests, and in knowledge led solutions for their management.”
Importantly, the success of the forum strengthens the resolve and committment by Syngenta, icipe and IITA to increase appreciation, understanding and training in nematology, as a crucial component of improved pest management and environmental protection in Kenya, and a definite strategy towards realising the potential of agriculture as the cornerstone of Africa’s development.