Sweet potato farming has gained significant popularity in Kenya due to its high yield potential, adaptability to diverse climatic conditions, and the increasing demand for the crop in local and international markets. With yields ranging from 15 to 20 tons per acre and a potential profit of Ksh 150,000 to Ksh 250,000 per acre, sweet potato farming presents an excellent opportunity for farmers to enhance their income and contribute to the country’s food security. In this article, we will explore the detailed process of planting sweet potatoes, discuss popular varieties, and highlight the financial benefits of engaging in this agricultural venture.
Planting Sweet Potatoes: Step-by-Step Guide
1. Land Preparation
To ensure successful sweet potato cultivation, it is essential to prepare the land properly. Start by clearing any weeds, rocks, and debris from the field. Plow or dig the soil to a depth of about 20 centimeters and remove any large clods or stones. It is advisable to incorporate organic matter such as well-rotted compost or farmyard manure into the soil to enhance its fertility and structure.
2. Variety Selection
Choosing the right sweet potato variety is crucial for obtaining high yields and meeting market demands. Some popular varieties grown in Kenya include:
– Kabode: Known for its high yields, early maturity, and resistance to diseases.
– Nyathiru: A sweet potato variety that performs well in areas with low rainfall.
– Ejumula: Suitable for both fresh consumption and processing into products like chips or flour.
Consult local agricultural extension officers or experienced farmers to identify the most suitable sweet potato varieties for your specific agro-ecological zone.
3. Seed Selection and Preparation
Select high-quality sweet potato vines or cuttings from disease-free plants. Look for vines that are firm, healthy, and free from pests or signs of infection. Cut the vines into 30 to 40 centimeter segments, making sure each cutting has at least three to four nodes.
Plant the prepared sweet potato cuttings in ridges or mounds. Ensure the ridges are well-prepared, with loose and fertile soil. Space the cuttings at intervals of about 30 centimeters, placing them horizontally in the ridges. Gently cover the cuttings with soil, leaving about 2 centimeters of the vine above the ground.
5. Irrigation and Weed Control
Sweet potatoes require adequate moisture for optimal growth and tuber development. Water the plants regularly, especially during dry periods. Implement efficient irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation or furrow irrigation to conserve water and minimize weed growth. Weed the field regularly to reduce competition for nutrients, water, and sunlight.
6. Fertilization and Pest Control
Apply balanced fertilizers, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to enhance the growth and productivity of sweet potatoes. Consult with agricultural experts to determine the appropriate fertilizer rates for your specific soil conditions. Additionally, monitor the crop regularly for pests and diseases. Use organic or chemical pest control methods as necessary to safeguard the plants.
Sweet potatoes are usually ready for harvest between three to six months after planting, depending on the variety. Look for signs such as yellowing of the leaves and wilting as indicators of maturity. Carefully dig out the tubers, being cautious not to damage them. Allow the harvested sweet potatoes to dry in a well-ventilated area before storing or selling them.
Profitability and Potential Yield
Sweet potato farming in Kenya offers attractive returns for farmers. With proper cultivation practices, farmers can achieve yields ranging from 15 to 20 tons per acre. Considering the average selling price of Ksh 20 per kilogram, this translates to a potential profit of Ksh 150,000 to Ksh 250,000 per acre. The profitability of sweet potato farming is further enhanced by the crop’s versatility, as it can be sold fresh, processed into various products, or used as animal feed.
Sweet potato farming presents a lucrative opportunity for Kenyan farmers to diversify their income and contribute to the country’s agricultural sector. With high potential yields, a range of marketable varieties, and the ability to generate substantial profits, engaging in sweet potato cultivation can be a rewarding venture. By following the step-by-step guide outlined in this article, farmers can lay the foundation for a successful sweet potato farming enterprise in Kenya.
Sources: Mwololo, J. K., M. W. K. Mburu, and Phyllis W. Muturi. “Performance of sweet potato varieties across environments in Kenya.” (2012). Link: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/document?repid=rep1&type=pdf&doi=d808e953c7bf1060c96e9a06134c4c0e481b59df
Ndolo, P. J., et al. “Participatory on-farm selection of sweetpotato varieties in western Kenya.” African Crop Science Journal 9.1 (2001): 41-48. Link: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/html/1807/21850/cs01033.html