In Africa, there is an urgent need to increase the yields of vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, as a way of improving the nutritional security, household incomes and the economies of many countries. Currently, almost 33% of the SSA population, close to 200 million people, is undernourished. In particular, the consumption of vegetables and fruits remains low, below the 400 grams per day threshold recommended by the World health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Moreover, micronutrient deficiency is widespread in many African people who have little access to protein sources such as meat and dairy products. Vegetables are a key source of micronutrients. In addition, many vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts are important elements in the horticultural industry, which is becoming a major foreign exchange earner in African countries. In Kenya alone, the sector employs more than half of the active population, contributing about 21% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
However, the production of these crops in Africa is significantly constrained by a variety of factors, which include insect pests, such as fruit flies, thrips, red spider mite, leaf miner flies, mealy bugs, lepidopteran pests such as Diamondback moth, Tuta absoluta etc. These pests reduce yield directly by attacking crops, or indirectly by passing on viral diseases. In addition, some of them are quarantine pests, resulting in rejection of crops from Africa destined for export markets.
Most vegetable growers are mainly smallholder farmers who often lack access to effective pest and disease control tools, and improved crop production techniques. Usually, farmers rely heavily on synthetic insecticides to control pests leading to development of pesticide resistance and elimination of natural enemies. Indiscriminate and frequent use of chemicals is detrimental to the health of the growers, consumers and the environment. Moreover, exported fruits and vegetables frequently fail to meet the standards on maximum residue level (MRL) which further hampers the export of produce from Africa.