Farmers in eastern Kenya who have had low crop yields due to overuse of toxic pesticides are helping the birds and bees who regularly pollinate using human methods, including soft brushes, to get their vegetables and fruits going.
“We are mainly affected by pesticides because they killed most of the pollinators that pollinate our plants. This has affected our food production compared to previous years, ”says Joseph Mbithi, a farmer in the village of Mbakoni in Makueni County.
He has had low crop yields for two years and blames the lack of natural pollinators for the use of chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides and nematicides, a type of chemical used to kill parasites on plants.
“Pollinators like bees and butterflies are not around because of chemicals we spray on our farms,” Mbithi said, citing the overuse of toxic pesticides like round-up and malathion.
Farmers are now faced with the task of hand transferring pollen grains from female plants to male plants. In this lengthy process, farmers have developed various techniques to boost food production.
Mbithi uses a toothbrush, a homemade brush, and a soft sponge to hand pollinate. He said he had received training on the technique from a local agricultural organization.
” The flowers are differently shaped and of different sizes. The male is bigger than the female. When I do hand pollination, I usually take pollen from the male first and then from the female, ”Mbithi said.
“When there is no pollination, most of them usually dry up,” he added.
There are two types of Pollination: self-pollination in which the same pollen from the same flower gets to the stigma of the same plant for fertilization.
Then there is cross-pollination, in which the pollen grains are moved from one flower to the flower of the next plant by an external force Dr. Faith Toroitich, Agriculture Entomologist Egerton University in the Rift Valley.
“We have plants that are wind pollinated, we have pollination from animals like birds and insects, and now there is assisted pollination – this is where humans come in to do it manually,” explained Toroitich.
Farmers also feed insects
In Kiambu County, farmer Samuel Nderitu, with the help of his trainees, pollinates around one hundred plants a day with locally made brushes. Nderitu, a farmer of corn, beans, sorghum, pumpkins, and spinach, showed that growing different types of crops and building water pans near the farm promotes pollination.
He also plants yellow and purple purple flowers around his farm’s fence to attract pollinators.
“We promote plant diversity by growing different types of plants that create a habitat for the pests and insects that do pollination work,” said Nderitu, who said it was important to avoid the use of chemicals.
“We feed the insects. You can also feed the birds and you know that birds do a good job pollinating too, ”he added.
Some farmers choose to place beehives on their farms.
“By adding bees to complement beehives, you increase productivity by over 100 percent.” said Dr. Sunday Ekesi, Research Associate and Research Director at the International Center for Insect Philosophy and Ecology ((ICIPE) in Nairobi.
Last year in a petition to encourage the return of nature’s pollinators, farmers requested a ban on imports of harmful pesticides. For now, Kenyan farmers take great care to protect their crops and maximize their yields by hand pollinating fruits and vegetables.