Kenyan sweet potato farmers can now export their produce to the European Union market following a drop in the produce production by 18 per cent in the region according to the North-Western European Potato Growers statistics for the 2018 season.
The production in EU is the lowest since 2012 and eight per cent lower than the five year average therefore demand is expected to peak in the 2019 season.
Of the 1.15m metric tons of sweet potatoes produced in Kenya in the 2017 season for instance, 115000 metric tons went to waste with the rest being consumed as food and none was exported. This means farmers Kenya produces enough sweet potatoes for domestic consumption while the surplus can be exported.
The opening up of the EU market comes at a time when government of Kenya through the Ministry of Devolution is putting up a four billion shilling sweet potato factory in Nyamira County. The factory is geared towards encouraging more farmers to grow the food produce through provision of ready market and value addition.
The factory will be used to make sweet potato crisps, flour and biscuits and will serve as a collection center for export.
Vines are used for establishment of sweet potatoes. The shoot vines should be cut 30cm from the growing point before planting and can be obtained at research centers as the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service at two shillings each.
Sweet potato can be relay cropped with maize i.e. when maize has reached physiological maturity, about one month to harvest, mounds/ridges can be made within the rows of maize at 30-60cm apart and the vines planted.
The potato mosaic disease caused by a virus is the most common sweet potato disease. It is controlled by using clean planting materials, resistant cultivars, removal and burning of infected plants in the field.
Sweet potatoes mature after three to six months depending on the varieties. Yellowing and drying of leaves is mostly an indication of maturity. Harvesting can be done by piece meal using sharpened sticks or metal rods or matches. Removal of all the tubers at once is also undertaken using hoes.
Care should be taken to avoid damaging the tubers (wounding) during harvesting. Usually sweet potatoes are stored in the field although after harvesting the tuber should be used. Curing can also be done to promote healing of wounds inflicted during harvesting. Tubers are cured by subjecting them to temperatures of 27-29.5°C and relative humidity of 85-90 per cent for four to seven days and then storing them at 13-16°C In rural areas, they can be stored in underground pit or platforms, covered with soil.