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Prison grows unique ‘pomato’ to fight hunger

A seedling of  pomato (a graft of potato and tomato) that was invented at the Kiambu G.K prison farm. ERIC WAINAINA
A seedling of pomato (a graft of potato and tomato) that was invented at the Kiambu G.K prison farm. ERIC WAINAINA  

A prison farm has made a breakthrough in growing tomatoes and potatoes on the same stem through grafting, potentially helping save on input costs and maximising use of small land parcels in densely populated areas.

The Kiambu Prison started the trial two years ago, guided by literature from China that showed the tuber and the fruit could actually be grown on the same plant.

The prison did not involve the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute or the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate services until when the experiment was successful. They have now called in the scientists to assess the crossbreed - pomato - and results are in the pipeline.

The prison’s farm manager Samuel Manene and the deputy director of prisons farms Patrick Kariri displayed the new plant at the Kiambu district agricultural show held at Ndumberi grounds.

Corporal Manene said the two crops belong to the solanaceae family, which is sensitive to humidity and is loved by pests. “A farmer can now plant tomatoes and potatoes together and save on space, time and labour without affecting the quality of their produce.”

He added that farmers could carry out the simple grafting technique. “One only needs a scion from a producing tomato to graft with a sprouting potato stem,” explains Mr. Manene, who said the farm was planning two-day orientations for farmers from the area.

Mr Manene said farmers in Gachie in Kiambu County and Meru’s Kibirigwi area have already started planting the Potato with his guidance.

He said one has to cut the potato bud, dissect the stem for two inches from the bud and insert the wedge-shaped flowering tomato scion into the dissection before tying it up with a polythene strip.

The dissection is done high above the soil level to prevent bacteria and disease-causing organisms from infecting the upper plant. After grafting the tomato leaves continue making food for the potato tubers beneath the soil.

A grafted pomato seedling is being sold for Sh50 each. Potato and tomato blight caused by humid conditions and bacteria wilts are the main threats to tomatoes and potatoes in Kenya.

Farmers who cannot afford the chemicals are forced to give the crops a wide berth or risk failed harvests.

Mr Manene said the prison’s farm has started trials to graft tomatoes with sweet potatoes.

Senior superintendent of prisons in charge of Kiambu prison David Kiptoo said prisoners were learning the grafting as part of rehabilitation programmes that they may apply after completing their sentences to sustain themselves economically.

“Our agricultural officers are training them on basic agricultural skills the main one being the Pomato that has been discovered right here. With the skill, they can sustain themselves economically and stay away from crime,” he said.

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