Ohio State scientists affiliated with IPM Innovation Lab work with Kenya’s Kongai Tisa Farmer Association to improve tomato production

March 13, 2014

Scientists at The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences have been working for five years in Kenya on a problem that has plagued local farmers. Mark Erbaugh, Office of International Programs in Agriculture; Sally Miller, Department of Plant Pathology; Luis Cañas, Department of Entomology, and Matt Kleinhenz, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, all have been engaged with the Kongai Tisa Farmer Association in Kirinyaga County, Kenya, to help improve their production and manage critical pests and diseases of tomato, their most important cash crop. This project, which is conducted through the USAID-supported Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab (IPM-IL) in East Africa, began five years ago when Kenyan farmers indicated a variety of diseases and insect pests were reducing their tomato harvest. These diseases include bacterial wilt, late blight, and Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TLCV) – a disease commonly vectored by whitefly, the American bollworm, and thrips.

The OSU research scientists, in close collaboration with scientists from the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Thika, developed and introduced an integrated package of management options that includes grafting a market-preferred variety onto a bacterial wilt-resistant rootstock, constructing high tunnels to exclude pests and diseases, using soil solarization heat-treatment to eliminate bacterial wilt in the soil, and the use of other sound agricultural practices.

Local farmers have been participating in the research trials and through a series of workshops, have learned how to do the grafting, manage high tunnels, and recognize common tomato diseases themselves. Some have even turned grafting into small-scale businesses by selling grafted seedlings to other farmers. According to the farmers, the package has helped them improve yields while simultaneously lowering costs of production through pesticide reduction and improved efficiency of their water usage. 

Farmers also claim that they are now developing their own IPM strategies for other crops and taking advantage of higher prices in some markets, as local consumers are now aware of the harmful effects of consuming pesticides harbored and have a greater willingness to pay. While the research team is currently in the process of assessing the project’s impact, similar projects are ongoing in Uganda and Tanzania – the two other countries that IPM-IL scientists are focused on. The Kirinyaga County project is just one of many projects lead by IPM-IL in East Africa to improve pest management, which will undoubtedly improve agricultural production and local livelihoods.