Scarcity of Certified Potato Seed causing Low Crop Production
Only one per cent of potato farmers in the country use official seeds, with the rest using recycled seeds either from their farms or the informal sector. Nakuru County Chief Officer for Agriculture Mr. Joel Maina has revealed. This scarcity of certified potato seeds in Kenya has led to low production by stagnating production of the crop at seven tons per hectare against a potential of 40 tons.
While speaking at the County, Mr Maina said that devolved unit have been working with various government agencies, research institutions and farmer groups to promote new farming technologies for breeding multiple disease free and high yielding seeds as a way of unlocking over Ksh 15 billion potential worth of potato farming within the devolved units.
He stated that the County had partnered with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), Agriculture Development Corporation, Egerton University, Baraka Agricultural College and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) to encourage both small holder and large-scale farmers to adopt aeroponics, hydroponics and apical stem cutting technologies used to produce basic potato seed.
“In a collaboration that has also brought on board the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK), 38 farmers have been trained on various forms of potato seed multiplication in an effort to help meet the demand in Nakuru and some of the adjoining counties “, stated the Chief Officer.
According to the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK), there is an annual potato seed demand of 100,000 tonnes in the country, but cumulatively, only 5000 tonnes is produced and supplied. Of the 5,000tonnes, KALRO produces 300 tonnes.
KALRO has been using aeroponics and hydroponics, technologies adopted from Peru, as an improvement on the conventional way of breeding potato tubers. While aeroponics method grows plants in air or mist without using soil and hydroponics, hydroponics makes use of mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent, but without soil to grow the plants.
The technologies, initially introduced by the International Potato Centre encompass the tubers being grown in liquid chemical solutions with extra nutrients like include potassium nitrates, calcium, and phosphate minerals which increase resistance to disease.
The process involves a meshed box partitioned into two and the partitions have holes through which the tubers grow. The tubers in the lower box partition have a timed mist spray that releases liquid nutrients every five minutes. This produces an extensive root network. The box is also wrapped with black plastic to create darkness but is aerated to ensure the tubers efficiently absorb the oxygen and carbon dioxide they need to grow. The aeration results in more tuber production.
Mr Maina said the county administration would allocate more resources to potato seed variety development and ‘hands-on’ trainings for seed producers. “We are aiming at increasing collaboration with upcoming seed entrepreneurs in the private sector. In order to build capacity, the County is looking forward to hosting a training for potato seed developers.
He indicated that the training would be fashioned for public and private agriculture professionals working in the potato seed development, production and supply. It will target employees of seed companies, Educational and Research Institutions, individual and group potato growers and agriculture extension officers.
Farmers to Receive New Technology, Higher Yielding and Disease Resistant Potato Seeds
The International Potato Center (CIP), in collaboration with the County Government of Nakuru is preparing to roll out a project featuring the new technology for producing higher yielding and disease resistant potato seeds.
Nakuru County Chief Officer for Agriculture Mr. Joel Maina has stated that the project, targeting 750 farmers growing the crop in seven Sub-Counties will see the farmers. issued with 22,500 cuttings of 6 potato varieties namely- Shangi, Wanjiku, Konjo, Chulu, Nyota and Lenana.
Potato has been identified as one of the focus crops for nutrition and food security, with irish potato (Solanum tuberosum) being the second most important food crop in Kenya, after maize.
This project comes as a mitigation measure to the challenge of scarcity of certified potato seeds in the country. Besides addressing the shortage of certified potato seeds, stem cutting technology also promotes the availability of clean seeds to farmers.
The technology is faster and simple to use because it involves production of potato seeds through stem cutting making it easier to propagate the seedlings before transplanting. The resultant cutting is similar to a nursery grown seedling only that it is grown through vegetative means and not from the seeds. The technology helps reduce potato seeds production time from over a month to less than three weeks.
Mr. Maina observed that instead of potato mini-tubers, the cuttings are produced from tissue culture plantlets in a screen house and after rooting, they are planted in the fields. “These cuttings can stay in a screen house for about two to three weeks for them to develop proper roots before transplanting. A single cutting can produce up to 24 tubers which are then multiplied for two seasons before harvesting.
He however noted that farmers cannot propagate the seedlings at the farm level but once they purchase the seedling, they can plant them in a nursery and later plant them for propagation.
Hillary Moseti, a large-scale potato farmer from Kuresoi North Sub-County stated that using the technology known as aeroponics, farmers are guaranteedbfive times more tubers per plant compared to when tubers are planted in the soil.
“Tubers planted in the soil take over three months before yielding planting material. They are also vulnerable to pest and disease attacks. The screen house enclosure used in aeroponics technology prevents such attacks,” said Moseti.
Countrywide, the crop is grown by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers, with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth Sh30 to Sh40 billion per year. Small scale farmers contribute 83 per cent of the total production.
The top producing potato counties include 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 and Kwale.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) reports that on average only about 20 percent of farmers in Africa use seeds of improved varieties. However, in the last two years, farmers who have used certified seeds have doubled their yields.