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July 31, 2011

Kenyan farmers to get drought-tolerant potato seeds

by Wanjohi Gakio

Plans are underway to start breeding drought resistant potato varieties in Kenya to curb food shortage. Players in potato farming who were meeting at Oljoro Orok Farmers Training Centre observed that available potato varieties are only grown in the highlands. They said there is no central place where potato information can be processed and disseminated to farmers to enable them know which seeds can be planted on which soils, in which quantities and where.

Potato Council of Kenya CEO Wachira Kaguongo said the country is producing 1.1 million tonnes of potatoes on 158, 000 hectares of land, which he said is not enough to feed the growing population.

Wachira said lack of vital information is the major cause of the low yields since farmers do not get varieties which can do best in their areas and which can be stored for a long time to cushion them against poor selling prices. "As a result, only one per cent use certified seeds of potatoes while another three per cent plant positively selected seeds. The rest plant the very same potatoes they harvest," he observed.

Wachira was speaking during the launch of a low cost potato storage project which is expected to be rolled out to more than 800,000 potato farmers countrywide.

The project was initiated by stakeholders in the potato industry after a chemical used to boost uniform seed germination, "Rindite," was withdrawn from the market over environmental concerns.

A researcher with Mount Kenya University Professor, John Nderitu, said the project is aimed at ensuring the rate of farmers who plant certified seeds in the country is increased from one per cent to five per cent. The project was launched by the director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture John Irungu who said that the potato industry has been allocated Sh27 million in this financial year.

Nairobi Star

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