December 16, 2013. It is well-known that one of the most efficient methods of preventing malaria is to sleep under a bed net to avoid mosquito bites. The same protection mechanism applies to plants, which, like human beings are not only exposed to diseases transmitted by insects, but also to direct damages as many pests feed on them. Farmers know the seriousness of this which can lead to total losses.
The BionetAgro project, an initiative launched jointly by a French Research Center (CIRAD) and A to Z Textile Mills Ltd. (a Tanzanian manufacturing company); and supported by a USAID funded research project involving stakeholders in Kenya, Tanzania, Benin, France, USA has established that the use of netting in horticulture is a promising method to control crop pests. AgroNet, the brand tested by the BionetAgro project is about to revolutionize small scale horticulture in the East African region.
The project is now two years old. When the Hortinews crew visited them in 2011, A to Z was promoting the use of AgroNet on cabbage, resulting in less pesticides and better income for farmers. Today, after on-station and on-farm testing, scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) indicate that they would also highly recommend this technology as part of the pest and disease management regime in French beans production.
This use will help growers to comply with the new Maximum Residue Levels that are more stringent and now making it difficult to sell the bean and peas from Kenya to the EU. Assistant Director, Horticulture at KARI Dr Lusike Wasilwa says the nets are part of a combination of methods the institute is formulating to comply with MRLs in these crops. She also says that farmers are increasingly using them to reduce application of pesticides.
What is AgroNet?
AgroNet is a family of clear netting products developed by A to Z for use in horticulture (vegetables, fruit and ornamentals). AgroNet was developed to control pests with the aim to significantly reduce quantities of pesticides (up to 90% in the case of cabbage net). AgroNet products provide farmers with affordable alternatives to generally expensive conventional protected cultivation in greenhouses or tunnels.
AgroNet are a cost-effective and safe way to protect crops from caterpillars and leaf miners in particular as well as birds and heavy rain. AgroNet (Cabbage Net and Tomato Net) act as physical barriers that deny pests (Lepidoptera and leaf miners) access to the crop, delay other pest infestation (white flies, aphids) and offer protection against cold, wind, hailstones and heavy rains.
Coverage of other crops
AgroNet is not only recommended for cabbage and French beans. According to data generated and published by Egerton University scientists, AgroNets are also having a good effect on tomato crops and on the production of vegetable seedlings in the nursery.
Scientists from KARI, Egerton University and ICIPE have collaborated with others from Tanzania (The Africa Technical Research Centre, A to Z R&D body), Benin, France and USA to test products developed and manufactured by the Tanzanian company. Results are truly impressive. Tomato net, the AgroNet recommended for growing tomato by A to Z, gives between 25% and 52% more yield than non covered plants and 20-30% higher than non covered chemically sprayed tomatoes.
Similar trends were observed with cabbage net (yields are 52-59% higher than unprotected cabbages and 44-50% higher than chemically treated but not covered cabbages).Tomato net exhibited wonderful results when used to protect seedlings in the nursery compared with current farmers’ practice. The use of AgroNet improves both germination rate and seedling growth of tomato and cabbage.
Development of other products for agriculture
Today A to Z is able to manufacture and distribute not only a range of AgroNet products but also shade nets for coffee seedlings and ornamentals. The company also manufactures postharvest handling products including plastic crates, polypropylene bags for cereals, pulses, salt, sugar and leno woven mesh bags for onions and potato.
All A to Z products are available in Kenya through TransGlobal Distributors Ltd.
Besides research done in Nairobi and Egerton University (around Nakuru), 14 demo plots have been set up by TransGlobal. The main locations are shown on the map and are mainly around Nairobi, Limuru, Nyeri, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kitale. These demo plots have resulted in a number of early adopters who are currently championing the adoption of this technology by other farmers in their regions as it is the case for Benedetto Wandeto
What others say about AgroNet
Benedetto Wandeto, Farmer in Magutu village of Mathira Division, Nyeri County
‘I am thankful to have discovered AgroNet.”
The 38 year-old farmer grows various horticultural crops among them tomatoes, cabbages, kales, cauliflowers, brinjals, spinach and capsicum in his 2.5 acre piece of land both under AgroNet and greenhouse.
His encounter with AgroNet was coincidental. He has a 40m x 8m greenhouse in which he grows tomatoes and he was set to buy another one earlier this year. He informed his sister of his intention who instead of encouraging him to buy another greenhouse told him to visit a demonstration site of new and affordable nets in Nyahururu, Laikipia County. He travelled to Nyahururu where he got introduced to the nets.
Here, a farmer had covered tomatoes and cabbages in a five square metre plot of land. He says the tomatoes looked healthier than those in greenhouses and he decided to give it a go. He is currently growing tomatoes, spinach, capsicum, cauliflower and brinjals
“One of the notable benefits about these nets is that they are three times cheaper to put up and maintain as compared to the greenhouses in the market making them suitable and affordable by most of the small-scale farmers,” he says. His cauliflower plant was of such high quality, which he attributes to use of AgroNet, that he got an order to supply the same to the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) in Nanyuki.
He was contracted to supply 200 kgs per day at four-day intervals and each kg was going for Sh50. “After taking my cauliflower through the chemical residue tests they found out that the levels were quite insignificant since usage of AgroNet reduces chemical applications,” he concludes.
‘The contract to supply BATUK with the cauliflower is still on’, he says
Enock Maiyo, a farmer in Kitale, Trans Nzoia county
“I started using AgroNet in August this year (2013) and I can see myself going far in horticultural farming.” He, together with Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) staff were first exposed to the AgroNet technology when they attended an agri-business trade fair organized in August 2013 by Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) at Kabarak University, Nakuru county.
He was given a free trial net measuring 8m by 5.5m. He is currently using the net to cover his tomato plot measuring 4m by 3.5m and uses it to demonstrate to other farmers in the area. Though he has not yet harvested the first crop under the AgroNet, he says his tomatoes have never been this good since the net facilitates faster growth. The net also protect his tomatoes against pests, hail stones and excessive evaporation. It also reduces frost incidences.
“I am now planning to expand the area under AgroNet and want to encourage more farmers to go the AgroNet way and reduce the cost of production while at the same time being assured of healthier crops and better yields,” he adds.
Irene Tarus, a farmer in Kapseret area in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county
She was introduced to AgroNet earlier this year. Irene was given enough net to construct a net house (8m*4m*2m) in her seven- acre piece of land two months ago. She managed to establish 100 plants under the net. This was after she attended a farmers’ field day at Kabarak University and stumbled upon the nets.
She got interested and requested to have a demonstration carried out in her farm for which she was given free net and an introduction to usage. She says the net has been instrumental in the protection of her tomatoes against pests especially white flies.
In addition, due to the favorable micro climatic conditions provided by the net, her crops were healthier and provided a good crop aggregate of about eight tomatoes per cluster. Irene says after using the net and liking it, she ordered two more nets.
“The nets were delivered at the end of October this year and I am now ready to grow tomatoes and cabbages under the nets starting from December 2013,” she said
TransGlobal Distributors Limited
TransGlobal Distributors Ltd (TGDL) is A to Z’s main distributor for Kenya. Established in late 2012 they distribute all netting products as well as crates and grain bags in the main regions of the country.
The TransGlobal sales force includes experienced agronomists who train and provide advice to farmers on the use of A to Z products.
TRANSGLOBAL DISTRIBUTORS LTD
P.O Box – 38932 – 0023 Nairobi, Kenya
Cell +254 735 173 269, +254 735 173 263
For photos and graphics see HortiNews November – Dec / Jan 2014, page 14