The government has launched a potato seed multiplication programme in six counties to address perennial shortages of seeds.
Agriculture CS Peter Munya said the seeds have been produced under the highest level of genetic control to ensure they are pure and accurately represent the variety characteristics identified by the breeder during selection.
“These seeds require further multiplication and are, therefore, given out to seed producers to multiply for wide distribution to farmers,” Munya said.
He added that the two-year project intends to add 2,500 metric tonnes of certified potato seeds into the national supply annually.
He further explained that the output will be achieved through training of county extension staff on climate-smart potato production practices with an emphasis on revitalising seed production and distribution.
Some 60 staff from Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Bomet, Nyandarua, Nyeri and Taita-Taveta have been trained on the multiplication process.
The new seeds, which have been produced by plant breeders at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), will improve farmers’ access to certified potato seeds, which will mitigate the effect of COVID-19 on potato production, the minister said.
Potato is the second most important crop after maize that is produced in 20 counties under varying socio-economic and climatic conditions.
A MAJOR CHALLENGE
Potato farmers in these counties continue to face various production challenges leading to an average production of 10 tonnes per hectare against a potential of 60 tonnes.
Conversely, climate change remains a major challenge generally to agriculture, including potato production.
Yara East Africa country manager William Ngeno notes that local potato farmers face numerous challenges, especially lack of quality seeds, which eventually dips their productivity and incomes.
“Most potatoes used by processors in Kenya are imported because the local produce is of poor quality and comes with a lot of defects,” explained Ngeno.
To produce high quality tubers, according to him, farmers need good seeds, the right fertiliser and proper crop husbandry.
“Our soils are depleted, but farmers can use crop-specific fertilisers to enhance their yields and quality of their crops, which eventually guarantees them a premium market,” he said.
He added that farmers using crop-specific fertilisers can harvest up to 31,000 tonnes of potatoes per hectare, compared to 12,000 tonnes when using regular fertilisers.
He noted that Yara Fertilisers, in partnership with the Potato Council of Kenya, is working with 30,000 farmers in West Pokot, Meru, Narok and Nakuru counties.
“We have developed a fertiliser package namely YaraMila Power for planting, YaraMila Winner for top dressing and Sulfan,” said Ngeno, adding that farmers can access the products from local agrovets.