Derivatization of Papyrus Reeds for Use as a Super Absorbance Mulch Substrate
Mwihaki, Josephine E.
Karoki, Peter K.
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Water is vital for the life and survival of plants. It is essential for transportation of plant nutrients from the soil; it maintains the plant posture and serves as a raw material for various chemical processes like photosynthesis, transpiration and buffer the plant against wide temperature fluctuations. Lack of enough water to crops may lead to wilting and eventually death, these may result to dependence on relief food or irrigation. Irrigation is a tedious task, which requires a lot of water, and so some farmers have resulted to mulching. Naturally occurring materials have been used as mulches for improvement of agricultural production since time immemorial. Plant remains and inorganic materials alike have been used traditionally but they lose water quickly. There are few studies on application of hydrogel in agriculture in India and North America but not much has been done in Africa. Papyrus reeds have been found to have the ability to absorb and retain substantial amount of water and the present study hypothesized that when modified, they could retain even more. This study therefore sought to enhance water retention of papyrus reed fibers through appropriate functionalization and cross-linking for use as a mulching agent. The mulch was functionalized and characterized by the use of FTIR, SEM, the swelling ratio was also calculated, and the mulch was applied in the field for the growing of kales and spinach. The FTIR peaks were observed for P-H at 2356.95 cm-1, P-OH at 820 cm-1, N-H at 3342 cm-1, C=O at 1660 cm-1, C-N at 1154.42 cm-1 and C-O at 1111.98 cm-1. The SEM images showed increase in the number of crevices and pores on the surface of the functionalized and crosslinked papyrus reed. The phosphate derivative absorbed more than 12 times its weight. The derivatized mulch gave the best results of kales and spinach in terms of weight, which had a mean of 2kg, a mean length of 27.8 cm, mean width of 9.96 cm and a mean of 4 leaves. The mulch preserves water; it is non-toxic, biodegradable, leads to high yield and helps to save labor and water by reducing frequency of irrigation.