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Ministry of Agriculture set to
review Root and Tuber policy

NAIVASHA (Xinhua) -- The Kenyan government is set to review it Roots and Tuber policy as part of plans to increase the country’s food security, a government official said on Monday.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki told journalists in Naivasha, about 90 km northwest of Nairobi, that roots and tuber crops such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are now the second most important food crop in Kenya after maize.

“The revised policy will enhance the utilization of root and tuber crops as raw materials in human food, animal feeds as well as in the pharmaceutical sector,” Kariuki said during the opening ceremony of ninth Triennial African Potato Association (APA) Conference.

The forum, which runs until July 4, brought over 280 delegates from 36 different countries comprising of scientists and other stakeholders involved in the potato and sweet potato value chains.

“We will also present it to parliament, so that it can be enacted into law,” she said. Kariuki added that the policy aims at giving a clear direction for sustainable growth and development for the root and tuber crops industry. 

According to the ministry of agriculture, Kenya’s total production of potatoes in 2011 was 2.6 million tonnes valued at 327 million U.S. dollars from 135,924 hectares of land.

“However, in 2012 the area under cultivation was 143,325 ha which resulted in a production of 2.9 million tonnes valued at 582 million dollars,” she said.

Kariuki noted that the production of sweet potatoes also increased from an area of 61,902 ha with a production of 759,471 tonnes valued at 242 million dollars in 2011 to an area of 66,971 ha with a production of 859,549 tonnes valued at 310 million dollars in 2012.

The agricultural principal secretary said that in the last three years, the government has also provided funding for agricultural training centers to carry out seed potato multiplication to the tune of 350,000 dollars.

“This will assist the country to promote use of certified seed potatoes by farmers in order to achieve increased potato yields,” she said.

The government official noted that a draft Potato Strategy and a legal notice is in place but they now require more stringent enforcement by the county governments.

Acting Agriculture Secretary Anne Onyango said that efforts towards development of sweet potato have focused on changing the eating habits through the creation of awareness and development of high yielding varieties that are tolerant to pests and diseases.

“The government in partnership with international donors has also established a tissue culture laboratory, as well as aeroponic facilities in order to increase the availability of potato mini- tubers,” Onyango said.

Deputy President William Ruto said that sufficient and healthy food is a prerequisite for sustainable development in the 21st century.

“The crops sector also plays a central role in Kenya’s food supply, which has generally lagged behind the rate of population growth,” Ruto said.

He noted that productivity has also remained low because of underutilization of water resources coupled with limited use of improved soil-fertility management practices.

According to Ruto, weak support services as well as recurrent droughts and related increased risks have discouraged investment which is indispensable for raising productivity.

African Potato Association President Dr. Jan Low said that the growth in production of potatoes and sweet potatoes in Africa is projected to increase as economists project an increase in demand in the region of between 3 percent and 10 percent annually.

She said that both crops are major subsistence crops for small scale farmers in Africa.

“They have also emerged as key cash crops as they are a highly preferred food in urban areas where consumption is increasing rapidly among the poor as well as among higher-income urban dwellers,” she said.

Low said that while some African countries consider potatoes as a poor man’s food, in Kenya it is considered a high quality and prestigious food item.

“Thus, apart from its contribution to rural food security, the potato is a dynamic cash crop with a high market potential,” the president said.

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