Potato Farming in Kenya
About 35,000 hectares of potatoes are grown annually in Kenya. Potato farming In Kenya has high potential. Potato production has increased in recent years mainly due to growth in population and diversification of crops.
Potato is the second most important food crop, after maize in Kenya. It is cultivated by over 800,000 growers who are mostly small holder. Potato production in Kenya is currently worth about KSH 50 billion. This figure can be increased if production and processing is optimized. The potato has the capability of providing cheap and nutritionally rich staple food requirements for the country’s fast growing population, especially, since the main staple food, maize, has its yields declining due to a host of factors including Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), increasing soil acidity and changing land use patterns.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Ecological Requirements
The most favourable climatic conditions are in areas with annual rainfall of between 850 mm and 1,200 mm, and altitudes of between 1,500m and 2 800m above sea level.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Major Potato Producing Counties
The mojor potato producing counties in Kenya include:- Bomet, Bungoma, Elgeiyo-Marakwet, Kiambu, Meru, Nakuru, Narok, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Taita-Taveta, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, and West Pokot.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Seed Varieties
Some of the seed varieties available are: Ambition, Arizona, Arnova, Kenya Karibu, Kenya Mavuno, Rudolph, Shangi, Sherekea, Tigoni among others.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Seedlings
Persistent seed shortage has continued to affect Potato Farming in Kenya. It is for this reason that the Agricultural Development Corporation(ADC) is developing new methods to grow potatoes in Kenya.
The corporation has strategically narrowed down to focus on its strength and available opportunities, under the ADC Seed Potato Complex that comprises of two farms, a grading and cold storage facility, and more recently, a fully functional tissue culture laboratory and greenhouse. The corporation has once again undertaken a research project, in collaboration with the CIP-International Potato Centre, to produce seed potato tubers by means of a modern system known as aeroponics.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Aeroponics
The aeroponic system of cultivation for the production of first generation seed potatoes is carried out in greenhouses, and basically consists of maintaining the roots of the plant in the air and in conditions of total darkness, whereby nutrient-enriched water is sprayed on them periodically. Roots grow in the air, enabling a great exposure to air and avoids the contact of the tubers with soil pathogens. Therefore, the production per plant increases considerably.
This increase brings the price of the tuber down substantially.
The system increases productivity, as it is expected that up to 50 tubers per plant can be obtained instead of the three or four achieved using conventional methods. Moreover, it reduces the rate of soil-based diseases such as PLRV; bacterial wilts and it is a more sustainable system as it needs lower inputs of water and fertilisers in precise amount of both items needed by the plant at each phase of its development.
Most agricultural plants need a direct exposure to the sun during the first vegetative development.
Afterwards this direct exposure is no longer relevant. But the aeroponic system ensures a non-stop production cycle. Plant nutrition is supplied in a closed circuit. Consumption is consequently limited to the quantities absorbed by the plants, allowing for substantial water savings.
Because the aeroponic system is a continuous cycle in an enclosed space it reduces the agricultural labour into a series of mechanical routine operational tasks which are carried out daily and throughout the year.
The aeroponic equipment is sheltered within green houses hence climate controls within the greenhouse ensure optimal growing conditions, assuring high yields.
The basic local requirements to achieve this are some sunshine and a level area of land not shaded by mountains or high buildings. The area should be accessible by road and have water of suitable quality for agricultural use and, lastly, a constant but small amount of electricity.
Aeroponic growing is considered to be safe and ecologically friendly for producing natural, healthy plants and crops. The main ecological advantages of aeroponics are the conservation of water and energy.
As aeroponics is conducted in air combined with micro – droplets of water, almost any plant can grow to maturity in air with a plentiful supply of oxygen, water and nutrients and since the aeroponic systems because the increased aeration of nutrient solution delivers more oxygen to plant roots, stimulating growth and helping to prevent pathogen formation.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Planting
Prepare the land where the potatoes are to be planted. Add compost or well-rotted manure to the soil. Potatoes are commonly grown in hilled rows. This involves digging shallow trenches 60–90 cm apart after the addition of the compost or manure or fertilizer. Space the potato seeds 30 cm apart and cover with 7.5 cm of soil. When the plants reach about 25 cm in height mound the soil up around the stems of the plants so that they are covered up to about half of their height. This protects shallow tubers from turning green from exposure to sunlight. Allow the plants to grow another 25 cm and again mound the soil.
Potato Farming in Kenya – Potato Pests and Diseases
The major potato pests include:-
Flea beetles chew small holes in plant leaves and can do serious damage fast if they attack young plants. Control:- Keep flea beetle populations low through crop rotation and by maintaining high soil organic matter.
These tiny insects can transmit virus diseases. They suck juices from the leaves and stems of potato plants, injuring them badly. Control:- Insecticidal soap sprays are an effective control method.
They’re slender, brownish or yellowish white and tunnel into plant roots and tubers, spoiling them.
The major potato diseases include:-
Early blight injures foliage and reduces overall yields. Affected leaves develop small, dark brown spots that often grow in size, and which eventually kill the leaves. Control:- Planting certified seed and mulching with hay can prevent this disease.
Late blight is caused by the downy mildew fungus. The disease first appears as water-soaked areas on the leaves then turn brown and black as the leaf dies. The disease strikes often during cool, wet weather and may spread rapidly if the weather warms up. Plants can die in a severe case. Control:- Plant certified seed and use a potato dust to guard against late blight.
Aphids can spread mosaic viruses, which cause potato leaves to curl and appear almost two-toned (light and dark green).
Potato Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
The time potato tubers take to reach maturity is variable and depends on the variety being grown. All tubers should be harvested when the leaves have dried. Harvest the tubers by gently digging them up with a fork or with your hands if the soil is loose enough. Harvesting is easier when the soil is dry. Do not wash the tubers prior to storing.