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Jump-Starting High Value Tree Crops in Kenya

A groundbreaking joint program of ICRISAT and the International Program for Arid Lands Crops (IPALAC) has for the past few years been developing higher-value crops and cropping systems to help alleviate dryland poverty while enriching food supply channels to urban and export markets. To absorb these innovative approaches, a team of four Kenyan researchers working with the DMP was sent for training to ICRISAT-Niamey during September-October 2004.

Kenya's interest was particularly stimulated by observations of station demonstrations at ICRISAT-Niamey showing that certain crops and particularly trees and indigenous fruits can realize much higher potential by grafting the branches of improved varieties (scions) from elsewhere onto the rootstocks of locally-adapted species.

A Ber market in Niger

The four staff identified over 15 trees/technologies for up-scaling in Kenya. Kenya was particularly interested in the abundance in arid lands of the unimproved indigenous fruit genus Zizyphus. Zizyphus mauriritania in particular has been revolutionized through the grafting of improved varieties from India and Pakistan which are of near-commercial quality, known locally as 'Ber' fruit.

In Rajasthan State, India, in the region of 600 mm annual rainfall, one hectare of Zizyphus mauriritania planted at a density of 10x10 m gives an annual fruit yield of 10,000 kg, an annual yield of leaves for forage of 9,000 kg, and an annual yield of wood of 6,000 kg.

Ber fruit is much in demand in Niger. The improved variety is more nutritious than apple. It has much bigger fruit than the wild Zizyphus mauriritania, and much larger leaves. It is pruned at the beginning of the rainy season to encourage flowering. The photo (left) shows an improved Zizyphus with large fruit being admired by the trainees.

In Kenya, Zizyphus is widely distributed, growing in areas with from 250 to over 800 mm of rainfall. Mother plants of Zizyphus are now being established in all the three Kenya DMP sites in anticipation of the arrival of scions from ICRISAT-IPALAC, Niger.

Objectives of the training

  • Acquire theoretical and practical skills in vegetative plant propagation (photo at right) so as to be able to initiate a plant multiplication and domestication process for important tree and shrub species in dryland Kenya

  • Learn about newly-introduced trees/shrubs and varieties that have economic importance for dryland areas

  • Learn about innovative new dryland farming systems such as the African Market Garden and the Sahelian Eco-farm.

Topics covered during the training

  • Theory and practicals on grafting (scion selection, different grafting methods, practical grafting in the field, root stock management, management of grafted seedlings, propagation by cuttings, management of planted cuttings etc.)

  • Theory and practicals on the installation of the African Market Garden (photo at left, installing low-cost drip irrigation) and the Sahelian Eco-farm systems, and the principles behind them

  • Other topics that stimulated interest during the training were water harvesting technologies, the za pit, the cow manure technology (for protection of seedlings against browsers) and livestock breeds of Niger. The trainees also appreciated access to literature materials at the ICRISAT library, both electronic and hard copies.

Practical exercises in the field introduced the trainees to important shrubs/trees for arid lands. Some of these are improved Zizyphus spp. (varieties include Katley, Ben Gurion, Gola, Seb and Umran) Acacia senegal (gum arabic), date palm, Hibiscus spp., Cassia sena, Tamarix spp., Ficus carica, Japtropha curcas, Moringa oleifera, Lannea microcarpa, bamboo, Saba senegalensis and Lawsonia inermis (henna). Important fruit trees encountered included different varieties of mangoes, oranges, guavas, pomegranates, Achras sapota, Annona spp., grapes, papaya and Tamarindus indica (the sweet variety).

Spillover benefits of the visit included lectures on the local livestock breeds and traditional water harvesting technologies.

 

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