CHAP works to fight PCN in Kenya

CHAP has launched its first international project, focused on developing a diagnostic tool for the identification and quantification of Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) in Kenya.

Last year ended on a high for the CHAP team with the UK Agri-Tech centre landing its first international project as part of the Innovate UK Agri-Tech Catalyst Round 8: Agriculture and Food Systems Innovation call, supported by the Department for International Development (DFID) and Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The project launched in November 2019, and is a collaboration between CHAP, PES Technologies and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.

CHAP Innovation Hub Lead, Dr Jenna Ross, said “In 2018 I travelled to Kenya as part of my Nuffield Farming scholarship studies and saw first-hand the impact that Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) can have on potato production. In 2019, I then met PES Technologies at our CHAP soils day, and we identified a fantastic opportunity to work alongside icipe to develop a cost-effective PCN diagnostic tool for potato growers in Kenya”.

The project

The aim of the project is to develop a PCN Assessment Tool for the identification and quantification of PCN in Kenya. The tool, if successful, would enable farmers to detect PCN in their fields; this would allow them to consider whether it would be appropriate to plant their potato crops or act to tackle the PCN infestation.

Potatoes are an important crop in Kenya, with approximately 800,000 people benefiting directly from potato production, however, PCN is one of several major challenges facing the industry.

PCN involves tiny cysts containing hundreds of eggs that hatch into juvenile nematodes that attack roots, causing up to 80% yield loss. A recent survey in Kenya showed that PCN was widespread in the main potato growing areas, so potato farmers urgently need better diagnostic tools to detect and quantify PCN.

By tackling PCN in potato production in Kenya, several other challenges will also be addressed, such as access to clean seed, crop rotation and improving soil health. However, before any of the above challenges are addressed, the farmer needs to know whether their field is infested with PCN, and if not, how to avoid becoming infested.

The project will also tackle gender equality issues, with plans to engage with The Women Farmers Association of Kenya, as well as other relevant organisations, such as the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK).

The partners:

PES Technologies

PES Technologies had a fantastic 2019, securing three new Innovate UK projects. PES Technologies, which is also a CHAP member, believes cost should not be a factor farmers consider when testing the health of their soils. Farmers should be able to test whenever they want, wherever they want, and however often they want – and get high-quality soil health information while out in the field.

To achieve this, PES Technologies are in the process of developing the first on-farm tool that measures the soil microbiome in order to produce soil health analyses. Their unique technology analyses microbial activities in soil so that it can provide more soil health indictors from a soil sample than any other tool in the world.

Their tool is hand-held, so farmers can take samples themselves, and their software will provide soil health info straight to smartphones and laptops. The whole process, from sampling to results, will only take five minutes.

Mr Andrej Porovic, PES Technologies CEO, said: PES is delighted to have won the funding necessary to investigate whether its unique soil gas sensing technology can be used to detect PCN. Successful calibration of this technology for PCN will facilitate the rollout of a cost-effective diagnostic tool, helping improve food security and farmers’ profits in both Kenya and across the world.”

International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)

International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology’s (icipe) aim is to help alleviate poverty, ensure food security, and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics, by developing and disseminating management tools and strategies for pest control through basic and applied research and capacity building.

Dr Solveig Haukeland, added: “Since its detection in 2015, the nematology lab (NemAfrica) at icipe has initiated work on PCN in Kenya, starting with a country-wide survey that demonstrated the widespread presence of the pest – to on-going work on identification of species and evaluating various management options. A major challenge however is lack of farmer awareness on PCN and the ability to easily detect the pest.

“We are extremely grateful for the successful landing of the PCN assessment tool project, it is most timely, and we are looking forward to working together with PES and CHAP to make this a success. Through the field work in the project that is currently on-going we are reaching more farmers and increasing their awareness. Through this new collaboration our capacity and expertise in the lab will also be sustained and heightened.

Project Kick Off

In November 2019, CHAP and PES Technologies travelled out to Kenya to meet with icipe for the project kick-off meeting. While there, the team met with staff and students who will be playing a key role in the delivery of the project. CHAP and PES Technologies were treated to a variety of insightful presentations, ranging from their work on PCN, through to nematodes attacking banana and pineapple.

It was also an opportunity to tour the facilities where much of the science work will take place, and to define the project details and delivery plan. On top of knowledge exchange, the trip also showcased the exciting and diverse culture of Kenya.

In conclusion…

CHAP is excited to launch its first international project, where outputs will be of great benefit for potato farmers in Kenya, providing a quick, easy and cost effective PCN Assessment Tool. On-farm detection of PCN could aid farmers in agronomic decision making, thus leading to increased potato productivity and greater uptake of crop rotation in Kenya.

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