2020 Review

The year started out with our pursuance of a revamped strategy based on lessons learned from the teaching and demonstration farm and a study of counties in western Kenya with high levels of poverty.  

In consultation with three farmers in Vihiga and Busia Counties of western Kenya, sweet potato was selected as the crop of focus for increased production and the development of value-added products. Sweet potato is highly nutritious, and a good source of carbohydrates, vitamin A, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Sweet potato flour is gaining popularity as a gluten free baking product used to fortify and flavor other foods.

High yielding sweet potato seedlings were acquired in late February 2020.  The seedlings were established in plots at each farmer’s location in Western Kenya; Bunyore, Rosterman and Port Victoria, each located in Vihiga County, Kakamega County and Port Victoria County, respectively. At each location, the farmers were given on-site training on how to establish a temporary nursery for the seedlings, the type of pre planting land preparation required, plant density requirements, pest control and field hygiene requirements.

Land preparation and planting of the seedlings was carried out by the farmers themselves and completed by 10 March at each site. The planting phase coincided with the onset of the seasonal rains, which encouraged early establishment of the crop.

Torrential rainfall, with the highest amount of precipitation recorded in over 40 years, resulted in floods in many parts of the region, destroying infrastructure, farmland and crops. The farm site in Port Victoria, nestled by the lake shore, was inundated with water as levels rose to unprecedented heights, and the lake attained its highest recorded level in 50 years. With the flooding and water logging of the land, the Port Victoria site was consequently abandoned. However, the two remaining sites at Bunyore and Rosterman which are located on gently sloping, well drained land, remained unscathed. 

In April 2020, the Kenyan government imposed a country-wide lockdown due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, movement around the country was severely curtailed. The mandatory adoption of travel restrictions made it impossible to conduct onsite monitoring visits, but regular telephone calls supplemented by internet app-based image transfers have helped to bridge the information gap.

In July 2020, not being able to keep up with several crop management aspects for an extended period, the farmer at Rosterman opted out.

Despite numerous challenges, work continued at the Bunyore site, which happened to be the largest site of all three locations. Harvesting and drying of the sweet potato crop began in September 2020, followed by the milling and marketing of the produce.

Adding value to sweet potato

Prior to beginning harvest of sweet potato tubers, a makeshift drying unit was constructed using wood and clear plastic and a vegetable slicer was purchased to slice the tubers before drying them. The slicing and dehydration of sweet potato tubers is a key step in extending shelf life of the crop while enabling the subsequent development of processed products. In addition, the process created new opportunities for employment and generated increased revenues from sweet potatoes, especially when compared to traditional crops like maize and beans.    

Our greatest achievements in 2020 were:

  • Higher than average sweet potato yield for Bunyore.
  • Adding value to sweet potato produce.
  • Creating additional revenue streams and opportunities.

Our greatest challenges in 2020 were:

  • The global COVID-19 pandemic and the country-wide lockdown.
  • Marketing value-added products during a country-wide lockdown.
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