With the highly destructive potato cyst nematode (PCN) threatening East Africa’s potato output, an organic method derived from banana plant waste material could be the final solution to this pest.
The “wrap and plant” method entails covering potato seed in a thick, absorbent paper made from banana plant fibre before planting commences. This approach protects the plants from PCN harm by forming a protective barrier around it.
Findings detailing this technique were recently published in Nature, an international journal. Researchers from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and North Carolina State University were involved.
“Initially, we aimed to understand whether the wrap-and-plant technology could help to improve the delivery and effectiveness of nematicides, the chemical agents that are used to control parasitic worms that damage crops, such as nematodes,” said Juliet Ochola, an MSc student at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.
“We established that when loaded with ultra-low dosages of nematicides, the banana paper enables the chemicals to be released in a slow and sustained manner and in very low but effective concentrations. The paper also facilitates the nematicides to be conveyed specifically to the root zone of the potato plants; the infection site of the nematodes, thus preventing contamination to non-target areas and organisms.”
The banana-fibre has unique sponge-like properties, added Professor Baldwyn Torto, head of the behavioural and chemical ecology unit at Icipe.
He said, “Through a process known scientifically as hydrogen bonding, the wrap-and-plant paper is able to soak and physically bind the critical chemical signals released by potato crops that allow the PCN to hatch, find and infect the plant’s roots. We confirmed this to be the case, as we recovered these chemicals from the paper.”
The banana-fibre qualities make the wrap-and-plant paper dense, rigid, and durable, allowing the plant’s roots to sprout and thrive while remaining intact in the soil. Although the paper is strong, it is also biodegradable and decomposes over time.
“The wrap-and-plant technology is a promising boost for food and nutrition security as well as household incomes, as it will help to safeguard production of potato, East Africa’s second most important staple crop. It also contributes to the vision of a circular economy by transforming banana-fibre, often regarded as an agricultural waste and a nuisance for farmers, into a raw material for a pest control innovation,” IITA said via a statement.
The institute believes this could create opportunities for entrepreneurs and farmers.
“Besides reducing overuse or misuse of chemical pesticides, the wrap-and-plant technology will also support environmental protection by assisting to curtail the growing trend where farmers are compelled to clear forests in an unsustainable manner to create productive fields that are free of PCNs and other pests. Overall, this breakthrough in PCN control demonstrates an environmentally-friendly way to counter disruptions in sustainable food systems.”