Growing potatoes in Meru county

Garden of OFSP three varieties at Ruiri farm

FHF explores ways to develop supply of seed potatoes and better variety of sweet potatoes

By Ken Mellish

Meru County in Kenya grows a lot of potatoes. With our long Island history of growing potatoes, it was natural that a P.E.I. organization would look at ways to improve potato production in Meru county.

These are what they call Irish potatoes, and what we here in P.E.I. call “potatoes”. There are also Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP), which are sweet potatoes which are grown on vines.

Most potatoes in Meru County are grown in small fields, but the same principles of good production apply. Members like Guy Cudmore and Barry Cudmore had looked at potato growing in Meru, and had made suggestions for improvement to farmers.

Peter Townshend traveled with the group for two years, and had worked with some of the seed growers and identified some areas where improvements could be made. One of the problems is the supply of high quality, disease-free seed potatoes to plant. 

We saw the variety Unica grown at a large seed multiplier, and at some small farms using seed from the multipliers. We were impressed with the high yield at both sized farms, and the eating quality of the potatoes. We even made some excellent French fries, or chips as they are called locally, from two potatoes we had bartered for a bottle of maple syrup.   

Chips made from two potatoes obtained through a barter for maple syrup!

Unica has been developed by the International Potato Center, and in addition to being higher in iron and zinc, the variety shows good resistance to late blight and viruses.

There is an interesting article about this variety at the International Potato Center website:

Adaptable, productive Unica: a potato for farmers around the world

The problem was that seed was in short supply, and the supply from all the multipliers was reserved.

FHF staff found a small supply of early generation seed. This was enough to plant one acre. The project is supporting the Kendi Geetu women’s group to grow the acre, and then this seed will be available in the next season for other women to plant.

FHF staff at the ADC Molo potato centre

Sweet potatoes are also grown, and there has been significant developments in yield and nutritional value. FHF had been promoting Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) for some time, but there were some problems with cooking quality. Our Kenyan staff were able to locate some new varieties which not only had the higher vitamin content but also cooked well.

FHF will be also multiplying vines for sweet potatoes for distribution to the members, and ultimately on to the wider community.  Sweet potatoes need a good water supply when vines are growing, so FHF will supply drip irrigation lines to 16 women to multiply OFSP. 

Both of these improved potatoes types will be included in the FHF nutrition training to improve diet quality for our partners.

This project is funded by Global Affairs Canada as part of the More Food, Better Food : Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers project.

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