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Want to eat into the bread market? Try sweet potatoes

By Njau Gitu - Aug 13th 2022
Sweet potatoes at a farm in Kiangwaci village in Kirinyaga County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Sweet potatoes are a staple food in many parts of the country. They are a good source of fibre, potassium, vitamins, and other essential nutrients and they can be prepared in different ways.

According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), there are a number of sweet potato varieties which are used for both food and animal feed. Kalro orange-fleshed sweet potato are for commercialisation, income generation and health improvement.

Peter Odongo, a sweet potato grower from Kabondo Kasipul in Homabay County shares growing tips.

Sweet potato varieties vary depending on their flesh colour, maturity time and recommended growing areas. Some of the varieties being grown are Kenspot 1, Kenspot 5, Kabode, Vitaa and Mugande.

Planting

The sweet potatoes are planted in rows of mounds or ridges that are raised above the ground. These ridges and mounds can be made by hand or by using oxen plough or tractors.

“When planting, the sweet potato vine is inserted into the mound or ridges with the buds facing upwards. The vines should be planted at a 45-degrees angle and ensure at least two thirds of the vine is buried inside the soil,” says Odongo.

Weeding

Once the vines have established and began to spread, the sweet potatoes should be weeded to keep the land free of weeds until the sweet potato tendrils have covered the ground, upon which they will largely suffocate the weeds. You can also get rid of the occasional weeds by hand.

Fertiliser application

According to Odongo, sweet potatoes do not really need fertilisers and will do well in moderately fertile and well-drained soils. In many cases, farm manure should suffice.

“If you want to focus on vine rather than tuber production, you can use the DAP fertilisers on your sweet potato crop,” says Odongo.

Pests

He says most sweet potato varieties will give excellent yields in spite of pest infestation. The most destructive pest one will likely face is the sweet potato weevil. To minimise the impact of pests, the crop should be planted on land where sweet potatoes have not been grown over the past two years. The soil can also be earthed up after every four to six weeks to regulate the weevil build-up.

Harvesting and market

Depending on the variety, sweet potatoes can be ready for harvesting after four to six months. The yellow-fleshed sweet potato varieties are the slowest maturing and will take up to six months to be ready for harvesting.

Once they are ready for harvest, the sweet potato tubers can still stay in the ground for months. You can identify the larger sweet potato tubers by looking for cracks in the ground. Per acre, a farmer is able to get 18,000 to 60,000 tubers.

“For every shilling spent on labour from plant to harvest, a farmer can get from Sh7 to Sh13 profit,” says Odongo.

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