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State plans to boost potato farming, influence dietary diversity

The national government is fast-tracking new strategies to promote the production and consumption of sweet potatoes. Agriculture and Research Principal Secretary Hamadi Boya confirmed that embracing sweet potatoes is part of the government’s strategy to diversify food sources away from maize.   

“The strategy is geared towards redefining the “Kenya plate” which is highly dominated by the main staple food – maize – to other crops,” he said.

He said traditionally, in East Africa, sweet potato is often a breakfast food, eaten steam or boiled, and also included as part of stews for lunch or dinner. 

“Already, sweet potato is ranked fourth staple food in the country after maize, Irish potatoes and beans.  We produce 700,000 tonnes per year, compared to 3.3 million tonnes for maize, and 1.3 million tonnes for Irish potato,” the PS said.

Boya made the remarks in a speech read on his behalf by Oscar Magenya during the 9th Sweet Potato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) Technical meeting at a Nairobi hotel.

According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo), the country has registered over 25 sweet potato vine varieties.  The organisation, Boya said, is in the process of releasing five new sweet potato varieties that are cold-tolerant, which would grow very well in highland cooler areas.

A major study by the Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, an institute of Egerton University carried between 2000 through to 2010 on agricultural households to generate the impact of climate change on crop production in general, and maize and tea specifically revealed that in future temperature will have more profound effects on crop revenue than rainfall. 

Dr Julius Okello, an impact assessment specialist with the International Potato Centre in sub-Saharan Africa said data by the Food and Agricultural Organisation indicates that sweet potato has overtaken Irish potatoes in terms of acreage in sub-Saharan Africa. 

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