A project meant to produce potato minitubers through rapid multiplication which was introduced last year in the country has recorded impressive growth with more than 15,000 potato farmers across East Africa having recorded over 20 percent yield. This comes at a time when there has been renewed efforts to increase returns and yields on potato which has largely been neglected due to the poor output.
The initiative, spearheaded by International Potato Center (CIP), is geared to producing large numbers of minitubers through very rapid multiplication. The method yields the same quantity of high-quality potato seed in three field generations as traditional methods deliver in seven generations. This rapid multiplication means production costs are lower, and there is less chance of contamination of the seed by disease or pests.
In Transmara district of Rift Valley, a predominantly Maasai area, one woman has led the way in adopting the multiplication program. Christine Nashuru harvested and sold over 10.3 tons of seed potato last year worth about Sh380,000 after attending seed multiplication training that brought together 57 seed multipliers from across the country. Having now perfected the multiplication practice she expects 80 tons of seeds this year from her 4 acres of land, which she has entirely dedicated to the crop.
CIP is using Christine’s success to win over more pastoralists in the area to the farming as a complement to pastoralism that can support them better in times of drought, when their livestock are hard hit. This is achieving some success, with more than 50 pastoralists having now expressed an interest in the potato farming. “Nobody believed her when she started this potato farming and we knew she couldn’t go far with it. After all nobody else had dared to. But she dedicated all her time and resources to prove us all wrong and look at her now,” said Milka, a pastoralist turned potato farmer.
The third generation seed multiplication is part of a five year project by the International Potato Center dubbed “Seed Potato Value Chain Roadmap” targeting Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda that targets business investments to increase the availability of high-quality seed potatoes and promote improved seed management. The programme is expected to raise the incomes of smallholder farmers, improve food security, and add to the rural and growing urban economies in the five countries.
“The problem is that there is not enough supply of high-quality planting material to meet demand,” said CIP social scientist Graham Thiele, a co-author of the Roadmap. “The solution therefore is to get smallholders access to quality seed, which will boost yields, raise their incomes and create more jobs,” he said.
According to an economist from CIP, Ricardo Labarta, the roadmap is set to cost them $15m, but is expected to generate a net present value of $128.7m and an internal rate of return of 156 per cent.
It will equally lead to 20 per cent increases in yields in the five target countries with the aim of achieving a 15 per cent increase in farm incomes, improved food security through a 10 per cent increase in potato production, and more business opportunities for at least 240,000 smallholder potato growers.
Potato production in Sub-Saharan Africa has more than doubled since 1994. Despite these gains, the potato yields of small-scale farmers in the region continue to fall short due to a potent combination of inadequate supply of high-quality seed and limited awareness of better management practices. Farmer organisations have therefore been aligning themselves in addressing these obstacles. Potato Council of Kenya CEO Wachira Kaguongo said the country now produces 1.1m tonnes of potatoes on 158, 000 hectares of land, but this is is not enough to feed the growing population and new and innovative ways of growing potatoes on small pieces of land were a welcome move.