Ezekiel Mugendi Njeru
Project Title: Using root-associated microorganisms to enhance sustainable crop production and resilience of smallholder agroecosystems to climate change
Host Organisation: Kenyatta University, Kenya
Agriculture today faces an unprecedented challenge of producing sufficient and healthy food for the rising human population under limited resources and changing climate. To increase agricultural sustainability and conserve agroecosystems, the search for alternative soil amendment strategies that capitalize on biological processes is gaining pace. These include beneficial root- associated microorganisms better known for their critical roles in improving crop nutritional uptake and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses. Since most smallholder farmers in semi-arid tropics of Kenya cannot afford inorganic fertilizers, the implementation of low-cost and sustainable fertilization strategies that promote productive and resilient cropping systems is imperative. This project aims to identify beneficial root-associated microorganisms that promote crop production and agroecosystem resilience to climate change. Using a multidisciplinary approach, rhizopheric soil and root samples will be collected from Embu, Kitui and Tharaka Nithi Counties of Kenya. A polyphasic approach including morphological, biochemical and molecular methods will be used to identify and map the biodiversity patterns of the native root-associated microorganisms. The isolates will be screened for production of beneficial plant growth metabolites in vitro. Effective native isolates that promote crop production, drought tolerance and quality will be identified using greenhouse bioassays, multiplied and supplied to smallholder farmers. Furthermore, field experiments will be established through participatory research and used for on-farm assessment of prepared low-cost microbial inocula. It is envisaged that the effective low-cost inocula, will be widely adopted by farmers and used to promote sustainable food production, cash generation and resilience of smallholder agroecosystems to changing climate.