Enterprise

New tech promises to lift potato farmers’ earnings

munene

Paul Munene with his staff at the premise in Meru County where he embraced Rooted Apical Cutting technology to enhance potato yields. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NMG

For years, potato yields have been dwindling due to the perpetual use of low-quality seed potato tubers that are often infested with pathogens and pests.

This is despite the fact that potato is the second most-consumed crop in Kenya after maize.

This situation compelled Paul Munenea, a farmer in Nkuene Ward, South Imenti, Meru County to embrace technology known as rooted apical cutting which helps in curtailing extensive crop loss from diseases.

“For a long time, farmers across the country registered dismal yields for overly relying on low-quality tubers often obtained from their local markets. With low-quality tubers, they have also had to grapple with devastating diseases and dangerous pests that are expensive to eradicate,” Munene says.

In order to address the challenges, in 2019 Mr Munene with the help of Farm Inputs Promotion Africa (FIPS) embraced rooted apical cutting, a technology that was aimed at boosting production while minimising widespread crop loss from diseases.

With this, the company constructed a greenhouse for him, and facilitated the establishment of the project at a cost of Sh450,000.

According to Mr Munene, the technology that entails generating certified top grade potato tubers from potato shoots is a promising alternative compared to minitubers that served as starter material for seed multipliers.

“The production of apical cuttings which are produced from tissue culture plants cannot be compared to minitubers, as once planted, the cuttings produce 10 to 25 seed tubers compared to 5-10 tubers par a minituber,” he says.

“The average cost of an apical cutting cost Sh15, while that of a minituber costing between Sh20 and Sh40.”

The use of apical cuttings is not only economical but also effective in terms of production, as it ensures a high productivity rate.

“Rooted apical cuttings also produce a commercial crop of seed tubers within 3-4 months compared to nine months of minituber technology,” says Mr Munene.

“This thus reduces the time taken for an individual to produce a commercial seed by one year, thus boosting the profitability of seed multiplication and the supply of quality seed to the farmers.”

Every month, Mr Munene who employs an average of four people daily produces 40,000 stems of certified seed potato seeds per month. In doing so, the shoots are cultivated under precise environments where the temperature, humidity and moisture are carefully observed to ensure that the plants get optimum condition for growth.

He has a ready market of more than 1,200 farmers in Meru region and its environs. Mr Munene sells the seedlings depending on the variety ranging from Sh2,990 to Sh3,500 per sack while a seedling or cutting retails at Sh15.

“This technology has multiple benefits for farmers, as a single cutting can produce top-grade tubers that can be used up to the fourth generation with guaranteed maximum yields. The farmers also have an advantage of getting their certified seeds locally thus cutting cost, especially the one associated with distance,” he says

With an increasing number of seed farmers adopting the technology, Mr Munene says that the region will be transformed to become a leading potato producer.

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