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Bacteria wilt tolerant tomato variety a solution to farmers in Kenya

Tomato farmers in Kenya have a reason to smile following the launch of a new tomato variety that is resistant to bacterial wilt.
Seminis Tomato Ansal, a hybrid variety launched by Bayer East Africa, a subsidiary of Bayer Global, is intolerant to bacterial wilt.
The new variety is also characterised by extra firm fruits that last three weeks after harvest and is a high yielder with 5-8 fruits per cluster.
It is also resistant to tomato mosaic virus, verticillium wilt, and fusarium wilt and root-knot nematodes.
The variety was introduced to farmers in late 2018 after a one-year period of on-station trials and off-station demonstrations plots with select farmers in Kirinyaga, Oloitoktok and Nyanza.

Bacterial wilt is a soil and water borne disease caused by bacteria Ralstoniasolanacearum which normally destroys 100 per cent of tomatoes.

This disease can survive for up to 40 years in water, which explains its high incidence in regions where river and lake water is heavily relied on for irrigation by tomato farmers.

“Following extensive trials with farmers, we can confirm that the new variety is the answer to bacterial wilt in tomatoes. It is a great seed variety that will save the farmer huge costs in pesticides in fighting the disease,” said Ms. Elizabeth Mranda, Bayer East Africa Commercial Lead – Vegetables manager.

Speaking during the launch at Kangaru village in Kagio Mwea west sub County of Kirinyaga County, Ms.Mranda said Bayer was happy to launch in the County, which is the largest producer of commercial tomatoes in Kenya.

She said research had revealed that tomato farmers lose between 50 to 100 percent of their crop due to bacterial wilt.

Mranda said the new variety targeting both small and large scale tomato farmers is now available in the market, and farmers can get it from all Agrovets countrywide.

Mr. Elijah Gitari Njaria , who has been growing the new variety for the last one year, said that the crop he was now growing was resistant to bacterial wilt, and was high yielding giving him over 30 tons per acre.

“With the old tomato varieties, I used to spend up to Sh100 000 per acre on pesticides and fungicides every season to at least suppress disease spread. I also used to have not more than 8 harvests per crop cycle. This reduced my profits considerably. With the new variety, the savings are now going directly into my profits,” Mr. Gitari said.

He said that his yield had also increased, harvesting twice a week, 15-20 times per crop cycle, compared to between 4-8 times per cycle when he farmed with the other susceptible varieties.
Gitari further said the variety is also resistant to TY virus (Gathuri) in the local language and is more yielding.
“The oval fruit shape and good size uniformity from cluster to cluster has made the variety a choice to many of the consumers,” he said.
“I planted the current crop in my one acre plot on 29th May and has taken 3 months before maturing for harvest” Njaria said
He said from the one acre plot he expects to harvest between 400 crates as compared to 30 to 40 crates of the locally available tomatoes.
The farmer who ventured into tomato farming after retiring from the County government where he worked as a veterinary extension officer said the new tomato variety produces more of grade ones and have little waste.
“I planted Ansal F1 side by side with the local variety, I almost got nothing as compared to bumper harvest I got from the new variety,” Gitari said.
He said the TY virus (Gathuri) makes the tomato plant appear like an old man with no fruit at all, thus the nickname Gathuri, he said
Farmers who had turned up for the training in big numbers were also educated on good crop husbandry where a single plant if well-tended can give the farmer from 10 to 15 kilograms of the fruits.
The farmers were also trained on the use of yellow and blue traps in the tomatoes farm to catch white flies and thrips pest.
“The white flies are harmful to the tomato plants as they suck the sap from the plant, drying it up in the process” Gitari said.
“I have five acres of the new variety Ansal F1 which I believe will give me good returns when I finally deliver them to the market,” he said.
Gitari said farmers wishing to engage in tomato farming should go for the new variety which will have solved half the problem encountered by tomato farmers of wilt.
The new variety was introduced in Kenya in January 2019 with trials with farmers at Kajiado, Kirinyaga and Nyahururu.
The County Executive Committee member for Agriculture Jackline Njogu who was the chief guest during the launch said the county government will support the farmers by disseminating the information of the new tomato variety to boost production.
She said Kirinyaga being the number one exporter of tomatoes and French beans, the county has finalized plans to put up a tomato processing factory that will take care of the produce during surplus production periods.
This she said will take care of the loses which the farmers have incurred in the past and at the same time stabilize the markets which at times go very low due to the over production.
Dr. Jess Kambaka, Deputy Institute Director KARLO Thika and a plant pathologist said they were now out to train the farmers on the integrated pest management.
She said it is possible to use technology which will help reduce pesticide and chemical use.
Kambaka said Bacteria wilt had become a big problem to farmers in Kenya and said the new variety is much welcome as it will boost production by farmers.
By Irungu Mwangi

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