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Biogradable materials rescue farmers from plastic ban impact

Farming innovations and technologies showcased at the Nairobi International Trade Fair attracted large crowds by the time the curtains came down on the weeklong show on Sunday afternoon.

Farmers confessed they were in a dilemma over what materials to use as containers for potting soil to grow plantlets before transplanting them once the roots developed due to a government ban on plastics effective from last year. During the show, they were introduced to a new alternative after as the ban on plastic bags continues to bite.

Tissue culture experts on banana plants from Kandara sub-county in Murang’a county have come up with a biodegradable material for potting soil to replace black plastic bags.

“The material is good for protecting the environment. Its biodegradable nature means it disappears after a year once the plant roots have developed and ready to be transplanted,” said the managing director of Agribase Consultants, Godfrey Ndirangu. An article in the journal Small-scale Forestry confirms the superiority of biodegradable bags over polythene ones in easing a seedling’s transition from the nursery to the farm.

Upon transplanting, tree seedlings grown in biodegradable bags grow normally, says the article by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (Icraf) and partners. The authors note, however, that the adoption of biodegradable seedling bags is not a straightforward proposition for small-scale tree nursery operators in Kenya and similar African countries.

According to an agroforest scientist, Jonathan Muriuki, seedlings produced in biodegradable bags establish more robustly once planted on a farm. Polythene seedlings tubes restrict the growth and aeration of roots in the nursery. When removed from the plastic and transplanted into the soil, the roots, which may have coiled in the bag, take longer to anchor into the ground.

This might explain the lower vigour seedlings suffer when they are transplanted from these bags. “Unlike polythene, biodegradable bags promote better drainage and aeration, which helps normal root development in the nursery.

Because biodegradable bags do not have to be cut away from the roots when seedlings are transplanted, the root system remains undisturbed, which reduces the risk of transplant shock to the tree seedling,” Muriuki says.

Ndirangu says the promotion of tissue culture bananas suffered a jolt after the ban of use of plastic bags took effect as farmers and suppliers pondered the next move before a solution was found. “Seedlings produced in biodegradable bags establish more robustly. There is no transplant shock and these new materials promote better drainage and aeration,” says Ndirangu.

During the trade fair, Agribase Consultants also showcased the latest avocado, mango and orange growing technologies. Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has been encouraging Kenyans to come up with eco- friendly and biodegradable materials. Kebs said bags made of biodegradable materials that include canvas, polypropylene and cloth are safe from the plastic bag ban.

“To avoid plastic bags, invest in reusable containers, look for alternative packing materials, use paper, steel or bamboo straws, buy unpackaged food, use degradable or reusable shopping bags made from starch, corn or potatoes,” advises National Environment Management Authority (Nemas), director general, Prof Geoffrey Wahungu.

Speaking earlier, chief guest during the show, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked the private sector to start ground- breaking innovations and new and affordable technologies to boost the agricultural sector. He said the efforts are important because Kenya is not only a regional hub for innovations and technologies, but a leader also in the continent. “Twenty-five per cent of agriculture start-ups in Africa are based in Kenya,” he said.

He praised the role the Agricultural Society of Kenta has played in the last 117 years to promote agriculture for the benefit of farmers. The President said a mix of polices already put in place to promote agriculture include the e-registration of all farmers and widening of agricultural programmes.

To reduce the cost of food, the government will enable farmers access affordable energy. President Uhuru said his administration has given Sh57 billion to the ministry of Agricultulre given for these interventions.

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