Highland farmers in Kenya are set to benefit from new five cold tolerant sweet potato varieties that can be used as food for humans and livestock feed.
“The new varieties can do well in the Mount Kenya and the North Rift regions,” said Benjamin Kivuva, a potato breeder at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.
With Kenya’s population growth rate growing by an average of 2.6 per cent annually, there is need to diversify food sources in a bid to improve food security as climate change poses a threat to crop production.
According to the ministry of agriculture, the country produces an estimated 700,000 tonnes of sweet potatoes yearly compared to 1.3m tonnes for Irish potatoes.
However, the production is eight to 10 tonnes per hectare against a potential of 15 tonnes.
The crop is ranked as the fourth most important food crop in Kenya after maize, Irish potatoes and beans.
Farmers harvesting sweet potatoes in the past. Courtesy
The International Potato Center, a root and tuber research center says it is promoting the adoption of sweet potatoes to reduce child malnutrition and improve income for 10m households by 2020.
A new survey by various organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council report that nearly 73,000 children in Kenya are malnourished and are at risk of dying from drought related hunger.
By adopting sweet potato farming therefore, households will be able to diversify their sources of food and improve their health status besides earning income from the produce.
A 98kg bag of sweet potatoes is currently retailing at Sh3,500 in Nairobi, Sh2,300 in Mombasa and Sh1800 in Kisumu according to soko+, an online digital platform that connects farmers to markets.