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Kenyan initiative aims to safeguard citrus crops

A US$1.3mn initiative has been launched in Kenya to address issues affecting citrus fruit production

The aim of the project, which will be run by the Nairobi-based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and its partners, will be to tackle the twin problems of insect pests and diseases in Kenya and Tanzania.

According to Dr Sunday Ekesi, a researcher at ICIPE, the African citrus triozid (ACT) and the false codling moth (FCM) pose the most serious threat of all the citrus pests in the region, transmitting devastating diseases as well as causing damage to the fruit.

Moreover, the excessive use of pesticides to control the pests has had its own negative effects on humans and the environment alike.

“Some of the pesticides used are listed as persistent organic pollutants, leading to rejection of produce in the export market,” Dr Ekesi noted.

One of the key facets of the project will therefore be to identify, develop and test the use of non-synthetic chemical alternatives such as natural, biological options, as well as cross-breeding citrus fruits with guavas, and assisting farmers to limit pests’ opportunities to reproduce.

Production of citrus fruits in the two East African countries has been in decline in recent years, with the current average annual yields of between four and ten tonnes per hectare (p/ha) standing well below the expected 50 to 75 tonnes p/ha.

The poor productivity of the various citrus crops, of which sweet oranges are the most common, has meant that supply cannot keep pace with local demand, resulting in supplementary exports from countries like South Africa and Egypt to cover the difference.

Currently, somewhere between five and 21 per cent of all citrus fruits consumed in Kenya and Tanzania are imported, according to Dr Ekesi.

Mwangi Mumero