Microclimate Modification Using Eco-friendly Nets for High-quality Tomato Transplant Production by Small-scale Farmers in East Africa
Elisha O. Gogo; Mwanarusi Saidi; Francis M. Itulya; Thibaud Martin; Mathieu Ngouajio
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Abstract: Unfavorable environmental conditions, pests, and viral diseases are among the major factors that contribute to poor growth and quality of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) seedlings in tropical areas. Improving crop microclimate and excluding insects that transmit viruses may improve transplant quality and yield in production fields. This study was carried out in two seasons at the Horticulture Research and Teaching Field of Egerton University in Njoro, Kenya, to investigate the effects of agricultural nets herein called eco-friendly nets (EFNs) on germination and performance of tomato seedlings. Tomato seeds were either raised in the open or under a permanent fine mesh net (0.4-mm pore diameter). Eco-friendly net covers modified the microclimate resulting in significantly higher day temperatures and relative humidity, compared with the open treatment. Nets increased temperature and relative humidity by 14.8% and 10.4%, respectively. Starting seeds under a net advanced seedling emergence by 2 days and resulted in higher emergence percentage, thicker stem diameter, more leaves, and faster growth leading to early maturity of seedlings and readiness for transplanting. Netting improved root development by increasing root quantity and length. Stomatal conductance (gS) and estimates of chlorophyll Content were higher in seedlings under net covering compared with those in the noncovered control treatment. Insect pests and diseases were also reduced under net covering. The use of the net in the production of tomato transplants presented a 36.5% reduction in the cost of seeds, through improved emergence and reduced pest damage. All other factors held constant, healthy and quality transplants obtained under a net covering also translate into better field performance; hence, increasing economic returns for commercial transplants growers, as well as for tomato farmers. Results of this study suggest that EFNs can be customized not only for their effective improvement on growth and quality of tomato transplants but also for their pest and disease management in the nursery alone or as a component of integrated pest and disease management.