Common Potato Enemies and how to handle them
With the unveiling of the government’s areas of focus for the next 5 years, the stakeholders in the agricultural landscape are elated with the identification of agriculture as a key driver to spur economic growth. The agenda thus titled the “big four”, it identified pillars that include food and nutritional security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare will be relied upon to create and sustain inclusive economic development. In a bid to improve food security, both large and small scale farmers are supposed to be at the forefront of not only farming but farming smartly so that they ensure that there is enough food for consumption and also for sale and also for some of farm produce processing to add value so that the intended industries to have raw materials. Among the crops largely grown to realize the national goal on food security is potatoes.
At the moment potato is the third most popular food in Kenya besides maize and banana. With the increase in population and shortage of maize in Kenya, citizens are turning to potatoes as alternative food. Potato farming in Kenya is also gaining ground as demand for the potatoes grows due rapid urbanization and the increase in population. The good price the crop fetches is another major factor why many farmers are now warming up to the crop. The growing of potatoes is also increasing across the world, with China being the leading producer globally. The tubers have both domestic and commercial uses. Due to their high levels of produce, Irish potato is the second most grown staple food in Kenya after maize. It fetches high prices in the market and they are very nutritious since they are known to contain fat, sodium, proteins, vitamins and proteins as well slowly releasing carbohydrates and phytonutrients.
The recent rising demand of the tubers is attributed to rapid a growing middle class and the increasing appeal of fast foods e.g. crisps (chips) and French fries. They are generally grown in the higher altitude areas, on rain-fed land, where they compete favourably with maize production. According to statistics, more than 800,000 people in Kenya directly benefit from on potato farming production while potatoes provide a source of income for over 2.5 million people employed in the value chain. Unfortunately, 90% of potatoes are grown on smallholdings on less than 0.5 acres of land. Farmers are turning to mechanization to meet the rising demand for potatoes by improving cultivation and reducing harvest losses however there are other problems beyond land preparation and quality of seeds and fertilizers that lead to farmers harvesting loses. Coupled with pests and diseases, this greatly affects the quality and the quantity of the potatoes.
When we visited a potato farmer in Timau Meru recently and one of the things that struck us about the crops on one section of her plantation is that some crops were wilting, starting from the tips of the leaves or where the stems branch out, and then spreading to all parts of the plant. This led to their leaves becoming yellowish at their bases, then the whole plant wilts and ‘dies’. To help us understand what was happening we decided to sample out few crops and cut the stems. On cutting a brown coloured ring was evident. The brown ring we note on the potato stem is caused by bacterial-wilt. The symptoms of bacterial wilt infection can be seen on all parts of infected plants. Infected plant begins to wilt, starting from the tips of the leaves or where the stems branch out, and then spreading to all parts of the plant. Leaves become yellow at their bases, then the whole plant wilts and dies. When stems are cut a brown coloured ring will be visible. When a tuber is cut in half, black or brown rings will, however, be visible. If left for a while or squeezed, these rings will exude a thick white fluid. A further symptom is fluid coming out of tuber eyes. This can be signified by soil sticking to tuber eyes when crops are harvested. Serious infection causes tubers to rot. This can be controlled by burying or burning the affected plants and tubers far away from the potato field. It is advisable not to put diseased plants in a compost heap. As an alternative, the farmer is encouraged to burn them.
The best option to avoid loses is to choose a good planting field: Potatoes should never be grown in low-lying or waterlogged areas.
Potatoes are also predisposed to Porcupines which mainly eat roots, tubers, for cultivated root crops. Cassava and carrots are also part of the crops threaten by this wild animal. Every so often, they will even take carrion back to the burrow to nibble on.
In a bid to improve food security, Bayer E. Africa and TingA, East Africa’s largest network of tractors and equipment, among other organizations have partnered to empower smallholder farmers through potato farming in a project dubbed the smallholder farming initiative. The project that is now changing the farmers’ lives in various counties kicked off in Meru in 2017.
Fridah Wachira a farmer from Timau area within Buuri sub-county Meru County said “while TingA mechanization has helped us get better yields our other problem here is porcupines. They come from the bushes and the valleys around this area. They are a real problem here I tell you. We have to devise a way of fighting them. They can really make you harvest losses.”
She added, “we are actually forced to chain our dogs here during the day and night. At least this can scare them. We have been able to overcome most of the pests affecting our crops as a result of the partnership between TingA, Bayer and there other partners that ensure we get quality seeds and pesticides.”
TingA field manager Meru Branch Joachim Mutai said, “we have actually been helping the farmers to mechanize their farms. We realized that just renting farm equipment to the farmers is not enough and that is why we partnered with other key stakeholders to make mechanization a reality. Through this partnership we ensure that farmers get certified seeds that keep at bay all crop diseases as well as training them with best practices. For the past 6 months we have trained at least 3500 farmers in groups across the nation. We have trained farmers from Mau Narok to Meru on how to tackle these diseases and pests that threaten their harvests.”
“We couldn’t stand seeing farmers losing their hard earned coins after doing everything human possible to have good harvests. Our partner Bayer East Africa has been very helpful in supplying the farmers with proper pesticides to protect the crops from stubborn pests,” added the TingA Rental Store Meru Branch Manager.
“Since we partnered with TingA, Quipbank’s project, in 2017, land preparation has become cheaper and easier TingA provide farm support and advisory, demonstrating to farmers correct depth that one can’t achieve with manual ploughing. This complements the input package that includes crop protection and nutrition programs, certified seed and good agricultural practices to translate to better yields,” said Diana Gitonga, Bayer’s Smallholder Farming Manager.
“Certified seeds are free from diseases and some varieties are tolerant to certain diseases. We also practice crop rotation to curb the diseases. In fact for seeds, we rotate after every seven years,” said Abiud Saidi the Farm Manager Kisima farm.
TingA is a project of Quipbank Trust Limited that employs the use of modern day technology channels to allow farmers access farming mechanization. One of these being it’s online based platforms that enable farmers to register and order for services as groups or individuals using hand gadgets such as mobile phones, tablet or computers. This accessibility enables even small scale farmers to enjoy farming equipment on short term leases. TingA Community Model Concept works by allowing farmers to register for mechanization services as groups through already established units such as NGOs, Chama, SACCO, Co-operative Societies, or Churches.
TingA is owned by Vehicle and Equipment Leasing Limited (VAELL) the largest leasing firm in East Africa. VAELL was recently hosted by Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) onto its premium incubation and acceleration programme, Ibuka.
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