KENYA – The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) have embarked on promoting new farming technologies aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in the country.

The government institutions are adopting technologies for breeding multiple disease-free potato seed, in a bid to achieve a widespread take-off in productivity for the country’s potato farmers.

KEPHIS Managing Director, Dr. Esther Kimani says only one per cent of potato farmers in the county use official seeds with the rest using re-cycled seeds from their farms and the informal sector thereby leading to low production of the crop.

Accordingly, the inspectorate is working with county governments, state agencies and the private sector in encouraging both small- and large-scale farmers to adopt aeroponics, hydroponics and stem cutting technologies used to produce basic potato seed.

Aeroponics is growing plants in air or mist without using soil, while hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil but using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.

According to KBC, it was initially adopted by KALRO from Peru and has been an improvement on the conventional way of breeding potato tubers from the soil.

In Peru, it was introduced by the International Potato Centre. The tubers are grown in liquid chemical solutions with extra nutrients that increase resistance to disease. The extra nutrients include potassium nitrates, calcium, and phosphate minerals.

The technology consists of a meshed box partitioned into two. The partitions have holes through which the tubers grow. Tubers in the lower box partition produce an extensive root network since they have a timed mist spray that releases liquid nutrients every five minutes.

The box is wrapped with black plastic to create darkness but is aerated to ensure efficient absorption of oxygen and carbon dioxide the tubers need to grow. The aeration results in more tuber production:

“Shortage of certified potato seeds stagnated production of potatoes at seven tons per hectare against a potential of forty tons. There is need to invest in production of certified seed as it fetches great opportunities and profits.’’

‘’Certified seed did not have bacterial wilt, black leg, nematodes or any other diseases. This is a relatively new technology in Kenya but is gaining popularity due to low incidences of potato diseases,” observes Dr. Kimani.

On his part, Director, Potato Research Centre-KALRO Dr. Moses Nyongesa says the state agency is collaborating with KEPHIS in potato seed variety development and ‘hands-on’ trainings for seed producers.

“We are aiming at increasing collaboration with upcoming seed entrepreneurs in the private sector. In order to bring about capacity building, KALRO is looking forward to hosting trainings for potato seed developers,” Dr. Nyongesa said

The director explained that trainings will be fashioned for public and private agriculture professionals working in the potato seed development, production and supply.

“We will target employees of seed companies, Educational and Research Institutions, individual and group potato growers and agriculture extension officers,” he observed.

So far 400 farmers have undergone training in Nyandarua on aeroponics, hydroponics and stem cutting technologies during a field day organized at Leshau Pondo.