Sweet Potatoes Farming in Kenya.

Sweet potatoes known as Ipomea batatas have evolved from being a traditional staple to a thriving crop with immense agricultural significance and high profit potential. Sweet potato farming involves cultivating the tuberous roots of the sweet potato plant. Their adaptability, nutritional richness, and economic potential make sweet potato farming a compelling agribusiness opportunity for farmers worldwide hence contributing to food security while maximising profits.

Ideal climatic conditions for the growth of sweet potatoes.

Kenya’s warm and tropical climates offers an ideal environment for the growth of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes prefer temperatures between 21 to 29 degrees Celsius with a full sunlight exposure for them to thrive well. They can tolerate dry conditions, but they generally perform well with consistent moisture. Well-drained loose, and sand loamy soils with good aeration are ideal for the tuber development.

Step by step process for farming sweet potatoes.

1.    Soil preparation

To ensure a successful harvest, choose a location with well- drained soil that is rich in organic matter with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Conduct soil tests to gauge nutrient levels and adjust accordingly. Clear the planting area of weeds, rocks, and debris to ensure that the sweet potatoes do not face competition for nutrients. Adequate preparation sets the foundation for healthy sweet potato growth and creates a nurturing environment for them to flourish.

2.    Planting

Choose the right time for planting, typically when the soil has warmed. Plant in loose, mounded rows with a depth of 3-4 inches, leaving only the top leaves above the surface. While planting make sure to observe proper spacing.  Properly spaced plants encourage healthy root development.

3.    Maintenance during growth.

ü  Watering

Water the newly planted slips generously to establish root development. Maintain consistent moisture throughout the growing season while avoiding water logging.

ü  Fertilization

Apply a balanced fertilizer during the growing season based on the soil test recommendations.

ü  Weeding

Regularly remove weeds to reduce competition for nutrients and water.

ü  Vine training

Train the sweet potato vines to spread along the rows, promoting sunlight exposure and aiding in weed suppression.

ü  Pest and Disease Management

Monitor for pests like sweet potato weevils and diseases such as black rot and implement appropriate pest control measures.

4.    Harvesting

 Sweet potatoes should be harvested when the vines begin to yellow and die back. This is about 90-120 days after planting. Gently dig them out to avoid damaging the roots. Proper handling during harvesting ensures quality produce for market or personal consumption.

5.    Storage

After harvesting, cure sweet potatoes in a warm, humid environment for a week or two then store them in a cool, dark place with proper ventilation. Curing is a post-harvest process that involves exposing freshly harvested sweet potatoes to warm and humid conditions for a certain period. Curing ensures longevity and preserves the nutritional quality of the sweet potatoes while preventing them from sprouting.

Examples of sweet potato varieties grown in Kenya include.

                        I.         Beauregard

A red skinned and orange fleshed sweet potato known for its high yielding vines and early maturity. It produces large elongated sweet potatoes with a sweeter flavour. Its adaptability to different agro-ecological zones makes it a popular choice.

                      II.         Jewel

Sweet potatoes that have a light orange coloured skin with a deep orange coloured flesh. It’s one of the most grown and consumed sweet potato. It’s well suited for both commercial and subsistence farming.

                    III.         Vitaa

This is a high-yielding, orange-fleshed sweet potato variety developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). It is resistant to pests and diseases and can grow well in a wide range of environmental conditions.


 IV.         Murasaki

A variety of sweet potatoes that is characterized by its deep purple skin and creamy white flesh, with an extra starchy texture.

 Is sweet potato farming profitable?

This is a question that every potential sweet potato farmer is likely to ask themselves before they decide to take up the venture. The answer is Yes. Here are a number of factors that make this venture profitable

o   High demand

Sweet potatoes are a staple food in the Kenyan diets, and this contributes to their consistent demand locally. Additionally, there is an increasing global interest in sweet potatoes as a nutritious crop and this definitely raises their demand in the export market. High demand often leads to more stable prices, reducing the risk of price fluctuations that can affect farmers’ income.

o   Nutritional Value

Beyond their sweet flavor, sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they offer a spectrum of health benefits. The nutritional content of sweet potatoes makes them attractive to health-conscious consumers, contributing to high market demand and potentially higher prices.

o   Short growing season

Sweet potatoes have a relatively short growing season of 3-4 months, allowing for multiple harvests in a year therefore increasing overall productivity and potential income.

o   Value addition

Farmers can explore value addition by processing sweet potatoes into various products such as chips, flour, or snacks opening up additional revenue streams. Generally, incorporating value addition into sweet potato farming adds value at different stages of the supply chain, contributing to increased profitability for farmers.

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