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Mwanarusi Saidi, Francis M. Itulya, Joseph N. Aguyoh, and Mathieu Ngouajio

Cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.] is an important component of most traditional cropping systems in the semiarid tropics. It provides both leaf vegetable and/or grain. Dual-purpose production of cowpea is most common in subsistence farming systems. Little is, however, known about the effects of cowpea leaf harvesting on tissue nitrogen composition and productivity of most cowpea-based cropping systems. A four-season study was carried out at the National Dry Land Research Center, Katumani, Kenya, to establish the effects of cowpea leaf harvesting initiation time and frequency on 1) tissue nitrogen content of cowpea and maize in a dual-purpose cowpea–maize intercropping systems; and 2) cowpea and maize yield and the overall productivity of a cowpea–maize intercrop measured by land equivalent ratio (LER). Cowpea leaf harvesting was initiated at 2, 3, or 4 weeks after emergence (WAE) and continued at 7- or 14-day intervals until onset of flowering. Cowpea tissue nitrogen content was highest in the control treatment and lowest in cowpea subjected to leaf harvesting from 2 WAE or at 7-day intervals, whereas maize tissue nitrogen content showed the reverse trend. Harvesting cowpea leaves from 3 WAE or at 7-day intervals gave the highest leaf vegetable yield, whereas grain yields were highest when no leaf harvesting was done. Maize yields were significantly improved by harvesting of leaves of the companion cowpea. Harvesting cowpea leaves for use as leaf vegetable increased productivity per unit area of land as measured by LER with the highest productivity achieved when leaf harvesting was initiated at 4 WAE or done at a 14-day interval.

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Elisha O. Gogo, Mwanarusi Saidi, Francis M. Itulya, Thibaud Martin, and Mathieu Ngouajio

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 (g S) 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.

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Elisha Otieno Gogo, Mwanarusi Saidi, Jacob Mugwa Ochieng, Thibaud Martin, Vance Baird, and Mathieu Ngouajio

French bean [Phaseolus vulgaris (L.)] is among the leading export vegetable in Africa, mostly produced by small-scale farmers. Unfavorable environmental conditions and heavy infestations by insect pests are among the major constraints limiting production of the crop. Most French bean producers grow their crop in open fields outdoors subject to harsh environmental conditions and repeatedly spray insecticides in a bid to realize high yield. This has led to rejection of some of the produce at the export market as a result of stringent limits on maximum residue levels. Two trials were conducted at the Horticulture Research and Teaching Field, Egerton University, Kenya, to evaluate the potential of using agricultural nets (herein referred to as agronets) to improve the microclimate, reduce pest infestation, and increase the yield and quality of French bean. A randomized complete block design with five replications was used. French bean seeds were direct-seeded, sprayed with an alpha-cypermethrin-based insecticide (control), covered with a treated agronet (0.9 mm × 0.7 mm average pore size made of 100 denier yarn knitted into a mesh impregnated with alpha-cypermethrin), or covered with an untreated-agronet (0.9 mm × 0.7 mm average pore size made of 100 denier yarn knitted into a mesh not impregnated with insecticide). Alpha-cypermethrin and agronets were manufactured by Tagros Chemicals (India) and A to Z Textile Mills (Tanzania), respectively. Covering French bean with the agronets modified the microclimate of the growing crop with air temperature increased by ≈10%, relative humidity by 4%, and soil moisture by 20%, whereas photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) and daily light integral (DLI) were decreased by ≈1% and 11.5%, respectively. Populations of silverleaf whitefly [Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius)] and black bean aphids [Aphis fabae (Scopoli)] were reduced under agronet covers as contrasted with control plots. Furthermore, populations of both pests were reduced on French bean grown under impregnated agronets compared with untreated agronets, but only on three of the five sampling dates [30, 44, and 72 days after planting (DAP)] for silver leaf whitefly or at only one of the five sampling dates (30 DAP) for black bean aphid. Covering French bean with agronets advanced seedling emergence by 2 days and increased seedling emergence over 90% compared with control plots. French bean plants covered with both agronet treatments had faster development, better pod yield, and quality compared with the uncovered plants. These findings demonstrate the potential of agronets in improving French bean performance while minimizing the number of insecticide sprays within the crop cycle, which could lead to less rejection of produce in the export market and improved environmental quality.