Uasin Gishu farmers have been urged to plant potatoes to improve food security and diversify their sources of income as the county’s main cash and staple food has been affected and destroyed by the fall armyworm and diseases such as maize lethal necrosis disease over the last two years.
The county considered as the country’s bread basket registered a decline in maize production from 4.4m bags in 2016 to 3.7m bags last year, a 25 per cent decrease attributed to infestation by the worm, head smut disease and the lethal necrosis disease according to statistics from the county’s department of agriculture.
The over 700 farmers from the county attended the Moiben potato field day where they were introduced to new high yielding potato varieties that can produce up to 150 bags per acre against the current varieties that yield between 30 to 50 110kg bags.
Government gives free 60,000 orange fleshed sweet potato vines to farmers
New technology helps farmer produce potato seeds in three weeks
Low cost sweet potato pig feed offer hope to millions of EA farmers
The new varieties that were launched last year and were showcased during the field day include Unica, Shangi, Voyager, Tigoni, Karibu, Rumba, Jelly, Arcoustic and Destiny among others. These new varieties are to diseases such as potato blight and mature within three months as opposed to maize which take up to seven months.
According to KEPHIS, the new varieties are suitable for making chips and crisps and can thus help farmers in promoting the value addition of the crop or sell them to fast-food joints and hotels within Eldoret town, the city of champions.
“We advise farmers to look out for sticker labels before purchasing seeds in a move aimed at ensuring farmers buy certified seeds,” said KEPHIS Managing Director Esther Kimani.
According to the plant health regulator, only one per cent of potato farmers in the county use official seeds with the rest using re-cycled seeds from their farms and the informal sector thereby leading to low production of the crop.
In Kenya, potatoes are the second most important major cash crop after maize. The crop is grown by over 800,000 smallholder farmers in an industry that supports 3.8m people directly and indirectly. The potato sector in Kenya is worth Sh50bn according to the National Potato Council of Kenya.
The top producing potato counties are Nyandarua (29.8 per cent), Nakuru (18.9 per cent) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 per cent).
Other potato producing regions include Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado, Kwale and Tharaka Nithi.