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Government gives free 60,000 orange fleshed sweet potato vines to farmers

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The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service in collaboration with World Vision last week supplied over 60,000 orange fleshed sweet potato vines to farmers in Elgeyo Marakwet and Bomet counties in the Rift Valley at a time when maize production is affected by the fall armyworm menace that destroyed approximately 800,000 hectares of land in 2017 causing losses of about 16m bags according to FAO.

Currently, two varieties of the sweet potato are in production by the KEPHIS- plant quarantine and bio-security station responsible for producing clean certified tissue culture plantlets for farmers.

China is the world’s largest grower of sweet potatoes, providing about 80 per cent of global supply.

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Orange fleshed sweet potatoes do well in well drained soils with ideal temperatures of 12 -25 degrees Celsius and an annual rainfall of 600 – 1600mm during the planting season.

The land should tilled until the soil is fine, farm yard manure is then spread evenly over the soil and ridges developed to allow for future root development without obstruction.

Planting of the crop is done at the onset of the rains in case a farmer depends on rain-fed rain. Disease free vines at a length of about 30cm should be planted at a spacing of one meter from row to row and 30cm from one vine to another.

In areas with poor soils, a compound fertilizer such as 17:17:17 at 100kg per hectare is applied at two intervals, one at planting and the other two weeks after the first weeding. The second weeding is done two weeks after the first is done.

There are various pests such as the sweet potato weevil and the sweet potato moth that attack the orange fleshed sweet potatoes.

An infestation by the weevil is characterized by cracking of the vines due to feeding by the adult weevil and holes by the larvae. It is controlled by use of clean certified planting vines and regular filling up of the soil around the base of the plants.

Attack by the sweet potato moth causes wilting and eventual death of the plants. The affected plants in this case are uprooted and destroyed.

Orange fleshed sweet potatoes mature within four to six months with potential maximum yield of eight tonnes per acre.

The crop is rich in vitamin A and E, which are essential in preventing malnutrition which affects over half of the world’s population. Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness and poor immune system.  

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