Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are nutritious

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Sweet potato farming is getting popular in most parts of the country. In Western Kenya, many farmers are finding the crop a good alternative to sugarcane. They see it as a source of money and nutrition for their families. Hence, their is growing demand for planting material.

More than half (54%) of the Kenyan population suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Lack of Vitamin A in the diet leads to low immunity and blindness especially in children. It is estimated that 70% of children suffer from vitamin A deficiency and many go blind. To ease this problem, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO, formerly KARI) with support from partners has developed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes that are rich in vitamin A. The varieties developed and available for production are Kenspot 3, Kenspot 4, Kenspot 5, Vitaa and Kabode.

The new varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are highly productive when compared to local varieties, sometimes by up to 50% and are early maturing, meaning they can be grown twice in a year.

The following guidelines help farmers to grow sweet potatoes:

Land preparation: Land should be prepared before the beginning of the rains. Open up the land to a depth of 30 – 45 cm by ploughing or digging. The soil should be made to a fine consistent tilth to ensure straight uniform tubers. Raise ridges or mounds (if the area is swampy) to a height of about 30 cm.

Planting: Vines are used for planting orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Use a vine cutting, about 30 cm from the top rather than the middle or lower part of the stem. The vines should be inserted at an angle in the soil and NOT vertically. About 2/3 of the vine should be buried in the soil at an angle. Spacing should be 100 cm between the ridges and 30 cm from plant to plant.

Weed control: Weeding should be done twice in the first two months when the sweet potatoes are slow in growth. The first weeding should be at 2-3 weeks of age, while the second at 5 weeks. After the second month, plant growth is vigorous enough to cover the surface and suppress weeds.

Fertilizer application: Farmyard manure should be thoroughly mixed with the soil during land preparation. If the tubers get into direct contact with manure, they become susceptible to black scab disease.

Harvesting: After 3–4 months, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are ready for harvesting. Prior pruning, 14 days to harvesting day, is recommended to ensure that the amount of water/milky fluid in the tuber is reduced (curing) for long storage after harvesting. Harvest when the soil is moist or wet to avoid bruising the roots. Yellowing and drying of the lower leaves shows that the crop is ready. Harvesting too early results in low yields. Late harvesting results in the tuber becoming fibrous and coloured and can be attacked by pests or prone to rotting. Use oxen plough to avoid bruising or injury to the root tubers.

Pests and disease control: The sweet potatoes are prone to the sweet potato weevil (pest) and sweet potato virus (disease). These can be controlled through crop rotation, selection of clean planting material, proper field hygiene and early planting and early harvesting.

Post-harvest handling of the crop: Dip the tubers in water and wash them thoroughly but carefully to avoid bruising the skin. Sorting should be done according to colour, size and shape. The tubers should be dried under a shade. They can boiled and eaten with milk or tea for breakfast or used as carbohydrates in the main meal (lunch or supper).

Value addition: Various value added products are produced from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Usually the potatoes are peeled, chipped and then shade-dried or dried by use of solar driers where available. The dried chips can be stored for as long as possible under dry conditions. They are milled into flour that is used in various recipes especially bread, chapati, mandazi, crackles, cakes and porridge.

For more information on Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato call 0736231949. Farmers from Western region can also visit KALRO- Kakamega.

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