The future for potato farmers looks brighter after the Kenya Plant Inspectorate Health Service (Kephis) developed over 50 new varieties that are high-yielding, pest resistant and suitable for specific regions.
The varieties were showcased last week at the Kephis Kitale offices, with Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett and a host of government officials in attendance.
Dr Esther Maina, Kephis managing director, said since 2013, Kephis in collaboration with local and international breeders has released 52 varieties.
“All the new varieties are high tuber yielding, disease tolerant and or resistant and have excellent tuber qualities for the various market niches,” she noted, adding that it is important for farmers to go for certified seeds to beat diseases such as Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN).
The new varieties include Ambition, Laura, Lady Amarilla, Derby, Markies, Sagitta, Saviola, Musica, Royal, Jelly, El Mundo, Faluka, Challenger, Evora, Panamera, Rodeo, Sifra, Voyager, UNICA, Konjo, Carolus, Zafira, Milva, Connect, Sarpo Mira and Mayan Gold, among others.
Of the varieties, only Shangi, Tigoni, Asante and Dutch Robjin are well-known to farmers.
Shangi, however, is the most popular variety among farmers and accounts for 70 per cent of the market.
Save for Dutch Robjin, the other varieties have been used in making chips and mashed potatoes. Dutch Robjin has been the only crisping variety.
From the initial one variety for crisps, now farmers have 10 more varieties such as Manitou, Destiny, Nyota, Royal and Sagitta. The others are for chips making.
Dr Simeon Komen, a plant examiner at Kephis, said that the new varieties are meant for high altitude areas which are traditionally potato growing areas.
“These areas have an altitude that ranges from 1,800m-2,400m above sea level with adequate rains that can go for up to 3,300m to 3,400m in places such as Mt Elgon in Bungoma, Kapcherop and Nyaru in Elgeyo Marakwet,” he explains.
CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE
The new varieties, Dr Komen says, would offer up to 60 tonnes per hectare (two-and-half acres) under proper management. At national level, the average tonne is seven.
“Generally, potatoes produced in warm areas sprout early. If you want to produce seeds it is advisable to do so in warm areas. Those from Holland have longer dormancy means that they can stay longer without going bad so long as they are kept in cool temperatures and cured well.”
He added that besides the new varieties being good for processing crisps or chips, they can also be baked and even roasted.
The researcher, however, added that currently the new varieties are not widely available in the market.
“There are seeds but not that much widely available. Various seed companies will need to evaluate the farmers’ preferences before venturing into mass seed production,” he said.
Normally, the cost of the seeds ranges from Sh35-Sh40 per kilogramme while those imported directly from Holland cost Sh100 per kilo.
“However, they must be certified first before they are released for farmers. We multiply once or twice to increase the number of seeds.” There are 13 major potato producing counties in Kenya. These are Nyandarua, Meru, Nyeri, Kiambu, Taita Taveta, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Elgeyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot.
Other producing counties include Kisii, Nyamira, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Baringo, Nandi, Laikipia and Kericho.
Potential potato producing counties are Machakos, Makueni, Embu, Kajiado, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kwale and Nairobi.
The leading producers are Nyandarua (29.8 per cent), Nakuru (18.9 per cent) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 per cent).
Dr Komen said the new varieties for low altitudes areas that are 1,500m above sea level such as Kakamega, parts of Kirinyaga and the Coast are in pipeline.