Tomato-potato cross benefits farmers
Kenyan farmers are benefitting from a breakthrough that allows them to grow tomatoes and potatoes on the same stem through grafting. First trialled by inmates in a Kenyan prison two years ago, and guided by Chinese literature, the hybrid crop - dubbed pomato - allows tomato to be grown on the potato rootstock, producing tomatoes above and potatoes below the soil, on the same plant.
Since approval to distribute the seedlings was granted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), the prison has recorded brisk business. The prison has also trained thousands of farmers in grafting: "So far we have trained over 2,000 farmers through agricultural shows and those who come to visit the prison gardens," says Corporal Manene of the Kiambu Prison where the pomato was trialled.
A farmer starts with cutting the potato bud, dissecting the stem for two inches from the bud and inserting the wedge-shaped flowering tomato scion into the dissection before tying it up with a polythene strip. The dissection is done well above the soil level to prevent bacteria and disease-causing organisms from infecting the upper plant. After grafting, the tomato leaves continue making food for the potato tubers beneath the soil. "The crop doesn't compromise on the quality of the produce at all," says Dr Habakkuk Mwiti from KARI.
By growing tomatoes and potatoes on the same stem, smallscale farmers are able to maximise use of their plots and save on input costs. "I had been planting fresh produce in my quarter of an acre plot and I was struggling with space," says Mueni, whose land neighbours the prison. "I have just harvested half a bag of potatoes and half a bag of tomatoes, whereas I used to get quarter of a bag from each. And I have managed to save space for my other produce like kales," he enthuses.
Written by: Bob Koigi
Date published: January 2012
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