By Joseph K. Wainaina
Sweet potato is an upcoming crop in the county having been popularized as an alternative crop to maize as a food security crop. Maize was the main staple crop in the county being consumed as ‘ugali’ for breakfast, lunch and supper.
In 2012 maize was infected by Maize Lethal Necrotic Disease (MLND) and yields started to decline significantly. Farmers were forced to either totally abandon planting maize or replacing some maize acreage with other alternative food crops. Sweet potato proved to be the ideal replacement in the warmer areas of the county while Irish potato was preferred in the cooler areas.
Sweet Potato Growing Areas
Soin/Sigowet and Belgut Sub Counties were the traditional sweet potato growing areas and with the advent of the maize disease the crop acreage began to increase gradually. Some little sweet potato is grown in Kunyak area of Kipkelion Sub County. With good management the crop can yield upto 20 Tons of tubers per acre. In 2015 the area planted with the crop was 532.5 Acres.
Production of sweet potato was boosted in 2014 when SACOMA (a UK based Kenyan owned company) started to import sweet potato tubers from Kaplelartet Ward in Soin/Sigowet Sub County. Initially the sweet potato varieties planted were very few with the local white-fleshed variety (Chebolol) being common. SACOMA linked up with CIP (International Potato Centre) which introduced farmers to the orange-fleshed varieties, which are fortified with vitamin A.
Farmers were also capacity built on aspect of tuber production and seed (vine) multiplication. In addition, some farmers were provided with free vines to start commercial sweet potato seed (vine) multiplication. The varieties that were introduced by ICIPE were Vita and Kabode.
Another buyer of sweet potato by the name Ringa factory (Homabay County) has entered the market and is purchasing the Vita and Kabode varieties of all sizes, unlike SACOMA, for making of sweet potato puree which it sells to Tuskys Supermarkets for making confectionaries. The factory relies heavily on supply from Kericho in the dry season because kericho receives extended rainfall allowing for year-long production.
Demand for sweet potatoes is projected to increase with commissioning of the Kiptere Sweet Potato factory based in Soin/Sigowet Sub County in the near future. Engaging in the sweet potato enterprise is profitable as indicated by the Gross Margin analyses.
Joseph K. Wainaina is the County Crops Officer in Kericho County
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