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22 September 2017
PLATFORM2013: Micro-propagating disease-free cocoyams by Kenyatta University Print
Monday, 16 December 2013 09:55

Kenyatta University’s article in PLATFORM2013 outlines how the micro-propagation of Kenyan cocoyam project has the potential to improve food security, nutrition and health for Africa’s rural poor. The intention is to achieve this through wider growth of healthier, more resilient Kenyan cocoyam crops.

Researcher: Dr Ruth Wanjau | Senior Lecturer | Department of Chemistry | Kenyatta University | Nairobi | Kenya.

(Portrait: Vice-Chancellor Prof. Olive Mugenda)

Research in context
Kenyatta University’s ‘Strategic and Vision Plan’ places considerable attention on research, innovation and outreach,” said Vice-Chancellor Prof. Olive Mugenda when discussing Research Uptake at Kenyatta University. “It has been realised that if the University is to Available throughout the year, it is a good food-security vegetable, and also has great promise of generating income within rural communitiesahead, it must devote adequate financial, human and material resources to research, innovation and outreach. The recent establishment of a division, headed by a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, to coordinate research, innovation and outreach, as well as the official opening of the Chandaria Business Innovation Incubation Centre, attests to this resolve.

The Micro-Propagation of Kenyan Cocoyam Project is a reflection of these resolutions. This biotechnology research aims at addressing food insecurity not only in Kenya, but also in most of Africa. The cocoyam is a staple food group in Africa, but is a crop that is plagued by diseases that limit healthy, abundant yields. The project has devised the development of a tissue protocol for micro-propagation of healthy, disease-free Kenyan cocoyam plants – a protocol which other laboratories in Africa are able to follow.”

Background
Most of the world’s food-poor people live in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 48.4% of Kenya’s population considered food poor in 2004. To meet this shortfall, a 55% increase in food production in Africa has to come from intensification of production from land under cultivation. Exploitation of the leafy green cocoyam, a vegetable adapted to the local environment, could improve food security, nutrition and health of the rural poor.

What is the Cocoyam?
Cocoyam (colocasia esculenta spp and xanthosoma sagittifolium spp) is an ancient crop grown throughout the humid tropics of Africa, the West Indies, the Pacific region and Asia. As well as having traditional uses, with its edible corms (a swollen stem base covered with scale leaves), vitamin- and protein-rich leaves, and carbohydrate- and mineral-rich roots, the cocoyam is an important staple food for these developing countries. Available throughout the year, it is a good food-security vegetable, and also has great promise of generating income within rural communities. The cocoyam thrives in stressful environmental conditions where other crops fail, including arid- and semi-arid regions, and saline and marshy areas. Although cocoyam is an important staple in Africa, its production is significantly constrained by diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.

 

The research innovation

Tissue culture techniques such as micro-propagation have assumed considerable importance as methods of producing disease-free plants. These in vitro, or test tube, techniques offer an alternative and reliable method for the production of planting material. In the micro-propagation process, tissue-culture methods are used to multiply clean, disease-free explant stock in order to produce a number of healthy progeny plants.

The cocoyam micro-propagation research arose out of a need to develop a tissue-culture system for the regeneration of healthy, disease-free Kenyan cocoyam varieties since no such system had yet been developed or put in place.

Micro-propagation protocol
This research began in 2008 and was completed in 2012. The objectives of the intervention were to: identify efficient explants for in vitro micro-propagation of cocoyam material in tissue culture; investigate the effect of plant-growth regulators on the development of the in vitro material; regenerate disease-free cocoyams through micro-propagation; and to mimic the normal farming system in the greenhouse using the tissue-culture established plantlets.

This study applied tissue-culture techniques to three cocoyam varieties collected from major growing areas using their petioles and meristems as explants. The resultant plantlets were then exposed to green house and field conditions and performed well. They were analysed for shoot and leaf formation, rooting, corm production and survival, until concentrations were optimum for in vitro growth and production.

The purpose of the research
The micro-propagation protocol established in this study can be efficiently applied by laboratories in the regions, whereby it is hoped that the study findings will help to address the issue of food security through attracting a range of markets including small- and large-scale farmers. In addition the study will benefit international germplasm exchange opportunities, boost gene banks, and provide opportunities for research institutions to fine-tune protocols to potentially reduce future cocoyam production costs.

Also, once the protocol for tissue culture of cocoyam is publically published, the private sector will in all likelihood seize the commercial opportunity to micro propagate and market cocoyams as attractive landscaping plants, which also prevent soil erosion. But the ultimate motivation for this research is that poor rural farmers will significantly benefit: year round they will be able to buy much cheaper, disease-resistant tissue-culture plantlets, which do not require expensive growth regulators.

From lab to field
While this project creates opportunity, the only sure way of getting the research into action is to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the poor rural farmer’s fields. This must happen to raise the socioeconomic status of the said group and the food security status of the country at large. The Ministry of Agriculture, together with research institutes such as the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Kenyan universities, will lead awareness campaigns around the potential of cocoyam. On a practical level, the said institutes will establish cocoyam nurseries where poor local farmers can cheaply source micro-propagated cocoyams.

Join the Research Uptake Conversation

If this piece of evidence-based development research from SSA is of use to you, please continue the Research Uptake Conversation by contacting Kenyatta University.

Website: www.ku.ac.ke

DRUSSA Research Uptake Leader at Kenyatta University
Prof. Wangari Mwai
Director
Institute for Research Science and Technology
mwaiwang@gmail.com

DRUSSA Research Uptake Champion at Kenyatta University

Dr Simon M Onywere
Deputy Director, Research Capacity Building And Dissemination/Senior Lecturer 
Institute Of Research, Science And Technology, Kenyatta University/Department Of Environmental Planning And Management
onyweres@yahoo.com

Researcher /PLATFORM2013 article writer
Dr Ruth Wanjau
Senior Lecturer Department of Chemistry Kenyatta University
ruthwanjau@yahoo.com
ruthwanjaug@gmail.com


PLATFORM2013 in digital
Read this article on pages 38 and 39 of PLATFORM2013 – a print and digital publication from the DRUSSA Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] – aimed at accessibly communicating evidence-based development research with the goal of deepening its reach and impact in the region. 

Follow the PLATFORM2013 blog campaign daily until 16 January 2014. You’ll find the blog schedule on PLATFORM2013 articles from the DRUSSA Universities here

 

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