Tomato grafting in Kenya: Bacterial wilt disease caused byย Ralstonia solanacearumย impacts solanaceous crops worldwide, and is considered one of the leading causes of tomato crop losses in Kenya. To counter the effects, the World Vegetable Center is piloting integrated pest management in Ethiopia and Kenya with funding from FCDO. An important practice is to graft susceptible high producing tomato varieties on rootstock that is resistant to bacterial wilt.

Dr Wubetu explaining the process of tomato grafting to Ms Sylvia Kuria (KALRO-Thika) and Carolyne Wangungu (WorldVeg Kenya)
Dr Wubetu explaining the process of tomato grafting to Ms Sylvia Kuria (KALRO-Thika) and Carolyne Wangungu (WorldVeg Kenya)

A tomato grafting training event was organized on 29 November 2022 at the Horticultural Research Institute of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization in at Thika. Participants came from private and public vegetable nurseries, farming communities, and trainers of trainers from other WorldVeg projects. Participants learned grafting skills that will help them produce high-quality and improved tomato seedlings, and they were trained on how to impart those skills to other seedling propagators in their communities. The ultimate goal of the training was to increase the adoption of tomato grafting, and the production of high-quality and bacterial wilt-resistant seedlings. This will increase the availability of improved seedlings and reduce the losses caused by the disease for farmers in the major tomato growing areas in Kenya.

The training was organized by Carolyne Wangungu (WorldVeg-Kenya), Dr Wubetu Legesse (WorldVeg-Ethiopia) and Sylvia Kuria from KALRO-Thika. Participants learned how to diagnose and best manage the disease before learning how to do the grafting.

For grafting, one-month-old bacterial wilt-resistant eggplant seedlings were used as rootstock while 21 days-old tomato seedlings of high yielding, but susceptible varieties were used as the scion. Different types of graft union (cleft and whipped) were used to graft the scion onto the rootstock and different types of graft connections (plastic tubing, and clips) were demonstrated to hold the graft unions in place.

Participants of the tomato grafting training
Participants of the tomato grafting training

Feedback from participants was positive, and nursery operators acknowledged that they had never seen the practice done on tomatoes before. They also noted that the clips used to harness the graft unions were easy to use unlike polythene wraps that are used for grafting fruit trees. They operators decided to each have a tomato grafting corner in their nurseries where they would train their attendants and farmers to hone their grafting skills and produce seedlings by themselves.

About Tomato Grafting

Tomato grafting is a technique used by horticulturists and gardeners to improve the health, yield, and disease resistance of tomato plants. Grafting involves taking the top part of one tomato plant (the scion) and attaching it to the root system of another tomato plant (the rootstock). The two parts are joined together so that they grow as one plant.

There are several benefits to tomato grafting. For example, grafting can improve the overall vigor of the plant, leading to higher yields. It can also increase disease resistance and tolerance to environmental stresses such as drought or high salinity in the soil. Additionally, grafting can allow growers to cultivate tomatoes in soils that might not be suitable for tomato production on their own.

The process of tomato grafting typically involves selecting a healthy scion and a compatible rootstock, making a clean cut on each, and then joining the two together using a special clip or grafting tape. The grafted plant is then allowed to heal for a period of time before being transplanted into the soil.

Tomato grafting is a relatively advanced technique, and it requires some skill and experience to do successfully. However, for those who are willing to put in the effort, it can be a valuable tool for improving the health and productivity of their tomato plants.

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