The potato is the second most important food crop in Kenya after maize. It is also an important source of revenue, employing more than 2.5 million people in potato farming activities across the entire production chain.
The new efforts address improved potato productions from multiple angles, ranging from public policy to better seed production and increased resistance to potato disease.
CIP scientists along with other scientists, researchers, and administrators are focusing on designing a proper potato policy for Kenya. Potato fields in this country have remained stagnant over the past decade due to factors such as price hikes, climate change, and policy deficiencies as well as farmers’ use of poor quality seed and improper post-harvest practices. In response, the team is designing a potato seed master plan, led by CIP and GTZ, the German agency for the international cooperation, which is to serve as the backbone of this overall initiative.
Addressing issues regarding seed quality and access, CIP led an effort to conduct an extensive seed market survey that involved gathering information regarding seed demand and availability from over 1300 growers from all the major potato-production districts in Kenya. CIP is also working with both private and public sector partners to introduce a new technology that produces substantially higher numbers of potato seed, or the mini-tubers from which new potatoes are grown, and helps to ensure that they are disease free. The technology is know as aeroponics, and involves growing the seed tubers in mid-air, with much higher multiplication rates than conventional methods.
In close collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), CIP is also working to test and release varieties of potatoes for smallholder farmers that are resistant to late blight, the most serious disease threatening potatoes worldwide. Late blight, which led to the famous Irish Potato famine, is caused by the fungus-like oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, and spreads through spores transported in the wind or the use of infected tubers. The government of Kenya has committed to supplying disease-free planting material to farmers along with subsidizing farm inputs, organizing markets, and strengthening farmers association.
There are other potato-related projects with similar public-private schemes in Africa. A project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) -in which CIP is participating too, is focusing on improving seed production in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.