The training, which was coordinated by Parasitoids Leads Frankline Areba and Brenda Cheptoo, was conducted at the parasitoids rearing facilities in Busia County and included a week-long laboratory orientation and on-field training.
While officially launching the internship program, Lawrence Ombwayo, PlantVillage Associate Director, pointed out the enormous potential of youth involvement in agriculture.
"You come from different counties and understand the different cultures of these communities," he said.
He further pointed out that "this will come in handy" as the team interacts with farmers.
The interns had the opportunity to visit the parasitoid-rearing facilities at Alupe and learn about the biocontrol agents of the fall armyworm.
In Kenya, where fall armyworms pose a greater challenge and can often cause significant yield loss, the deployment of integrated pest management is crucial.
PlantVillage, in 2022, established a rearing facility to mass produce and release natural enemies to combat the fall armyworm pest.
This program, which started with three research extension officers being trained by scientists from ICIPE, expanded to include 21 members trained by their peers.
The laboratory orientation also covered a variety of topics, including the identification of parasitoids, mass production of Trichogramma chilonis, card preparation and exposure techniques, preparation of fall armyworm artificial diet, production of larval parasitoids, and harvesting moths and eggs.
Brenda Cheptoo called upon the interns to encourage farmers to adopt biological controls, noting that intercropping and planting trees at the border is the way to go not only to ensure the conservation of natural enemies but also sustainable food security.
The training ended with field visits. The interns were deployed to different fields in Busia to collect the parasitoid hosts. They also learned the strategies for releasing the natural enemies on the field.
The team expressed utter excitement over their new roles serving farmers.
"I expect that farmers will reduce the use of synthetic pesticides, which are costly and have devastating effects on health and the environment, as a result of the knowledge I will disseminate to them."
"Most farmers I have interacted with don’t know about other alternatives to controlling fall armyworms. It is now upon me to educate them and show them that they can access parasitoids. Thus, I believe working with them will help improve their yields," said Elizabeth Kalekye, one of the interns.
The 10 will be working in the rearing facilities established in Busia, Uasin Gishu, and Machakos with the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).