Potatoes have become a very important crop in East Africa, both as a food and economically. In Kenya alone, potatoes contribute over US$500 million to the economy annually, employing around 2.5 million people.
However, productivity is steadily declining. This is due to various reasons including potato cyst nematodes, a microscopic type of roundworm that feeds on potato roots and lives in the soil. They’re causing substantial losses to potato production in Kenya, and likely the region. Current estimates show that approximately US$127 million worth of losses are attributed to the nematodes in Kenya every year.
Due to the magnitude of the damage that the nematodes cause to potato production, strict quarantine regulations have been implemented across many parts of the world to contain and restrict their further spread. But there might be a solution: banana paper. Potatoes can be wrapped in a “banana paper” at planting, to protect it from the worms. The paper is made from fibre waste from harvested bananas which would otherwise have been discarded. In East Africa, bananas are plentiful – and therefore so will the fibre waste.
In tests conducted in Kenya, potato yields were up to five-fold higher than normal farmer practice with nematode densities significantly suppressed.