In 2012, CIP became a participating center of the newly-created CGIAR on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (“Humidtropics”). Humidtropics targets the vast hot and wet areas around the equator that are home to some 2.9 billion people living on 3 billion hectares of land. Intensifying agriculture in these areas offers the best potential to reduce poverty, especially among women and other vulnerable groups.
The CIP-Humidtropics research project, which started in 2013, focuses on the important issue of crop diversification. In Western Kenya, diversification helps to reduce dependence on maize – a principal cash crop – as well as to mitigate the effects of the maize lethal necrosis virus, through the introduction of potato as a rotation crop in the region. As a result of a decline in yields in both maize and beans, farmers are now looking for an alternative food crop to supplement what they have.
Western Kenya has altitudes lower than 1800 m, which are unsuitable for potato production due to high temperatures that exceed the minimum required for tuberisation. However, in these areas there is high demand among farmers for a heat-tolerant potato to enable them to take advantage of marketing opportunities in lower elevation regions that currently source potato from the highlands.
In response to this demand, CIP is evaluating 16 heat-tolerant potato clones in the Western Kenya region, which is an action site for Humidtropics. As the area is currently unsuitable for potato production, CIP is working to determine which clones are the most suitable under such conditions. The research team includes CIP potato scientists Monica Parker, Elly Atieno and Dorothy Onyango, and John Onditi, Potato Breeder with CIP’s partner organization, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Farmers are a key part of the research project and a core component of the ground work. They are working closely with the research and evaluation team at every step of the project.
CIP has identified 12 sites in Western Kenya (in Kisumu and Vihiga counties) to evaluate the clones. Planting, hilling and mid bloom evaluation has been completed and the research team have just completed the first review. The team spent three days in the field conducting the mid-season evaluation. Each of the 12 farms involved was visited and the potato fields at each site were evaluated.
It was a great opportunity for the team to view first-hand how each of the sites has developed and to discuss with the farmers the challenges – and opportunities – presented by the trial.
The research team also took the opportunity to spend two days (October 22 – 23) training farmers from the trial in areas of potato production. Specific topics included an introduction to plant diseases and major potato diseases, as well as safe and practical spraying practices.
There were 36 participants in all, the majority of whom were from the 12 sites where the Humidtropics trial is being conducted. Also attending were representatives of three project partners who work directly with farmers contracted with CIP (MFAGRO, AVENE and RPK), as well as two agricultural officers, three extension officers, and two agronomists-extension officers from the surrounding areas.
The trainers took an active, participatory-based approach, leading the group of farmers in interactive and engaging discussions about potato production, while giving them the opportunity to get involved and to get their hands dirty.
The field trip to Western Kenya was an excellent opportunity to move the research project forward and to allow mid-term evaluations to be conducted, as well as providing a great chance for the research team to train local farmers in this specialized area.
The CIP-SSA Potato Research Team is looking forward to continuing the research program in the coming months and to exploring further the opportunities that heat-tolerant potato clones could potentially provide to farmers in Western Kenya.
For further information about CIP’s Portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa please visit: https://cipotato.org/potato
All Photo Credits: Sara Quinn/CIP
To see the Humid Tropics Photo Gallery in full screen, click here