Celebrating the 1st Hybrid Coconut Launch in Matuga, Kwale County

Matuga, Kwale County - 1st February 2019 marked a momentous occasion for the Coconut industry in Kenya, especially to Kenya’s coastal communities as the first hybrid coconuts were transplanted from a KEPHIS managed quarantine nursery to the field in Matuga, Kwale County.

The hybrid variety - a cross between the tall, conventional Tall Coconut Variety and the dwarf variety - is bound to change the fortunes of families at the coast as it takes about 3 years to mature and produces 250 - 300 nuts annually as opposed to the tall variety which takes 5 – 7 years and produces an average of 100 nuts annually. The coconut, described as the ‘sleeping giant sub-sector’, is the lifeblood of the coastal counties - Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Mombasa - with 100,000 families dependent on the crop for their livelihood.

The coconut sub-sector contributes an estimated 1.5% to the agricultural GDP and 0.4% of Kenya’s GDP. Coconuts are known to be the source of more than 120 products which support livelihood in nutrition, housing and health.
5,000 seed nuts were brought into Kenya from India in December 2018 and planted in a quarantine site under KEPHIS supervision at KARLO Matuga in Kwale County. To date, 2,137 have germinated and are ready for transplanting to open quarantine at the research station while others shall be distributed to selected farmers in Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi Counties.

KEPHIS MD Dr Esther Kimani planting a hybrid coconut in Matuga, Kwale County. The hybrid coconut is expected to change the fortunes of coastal farmers due to its faster maturity time, more fruits compared to the conventional East African Tall Variety and safer harvesting.

The process of importing the hybrids started in 2017 when officials from KEPHIS conducted a Pest Risk Analysis on Hybrid Coconuts from India to determine the phytosanitary (plant health) risks associated with importation of seed nuts and the subsequent management measures to be put in place. Upon completion of the pest risk analysis, Kenya through KEPHIS and the Government of India signed a Memorandum of Understanding to allow for importation of the hybrid coconut seedlings. Once imported from India, the seedlings were planted under KEPHIS supervised closed quarantine facilities in Matuga for close observation before transplanting. Samples were drawn from the seedlings for disease analysis in KEPHIS molecular laboratory for the presence of the Yellowing Necrosis Disease, a process that found no trace of the disease.
Speaking during the transplanting ceremony, KEPHIS MD Dr Esther Kimani urged the farmers to report any plant diseases to KEPHIS or agricultural officers in the county for advice on mitigation measures. She also reiterated the need for stakeholders to get a Plant Import Permit (PIP) before importing any plants into the country.
A technical committee comprising KEPHIS, MEPST, NOCD, Pwani University and KALRO have been steering the process to ensure safe introduction of improved coconut variety to the region. The initiative responds to the Kenya Government’s Big 4 Agenda on Food Security and Nutrition, Housing, Manufacturing and Universal Health Care. The Coconut is known to cut across the four agendas and therefore improving its value chain is expected to increase the sub-sector income from the current annual income of KES 12 billion to KES 25 billion.

Hybrid Coconuts in a KEPHIS supervised quarantine facility in Matuga, Kwale County. The coconuts went through molecular testing for the yellowing necrosis disease which tested negative for the disease.

Left: The conventional coconut variety planted by coastal communities for decades and right, the new introduced hybrid variety

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