Potato farming is practiced by over 800,000 farmers in Kenya, due to its high lucrative value. Potato is now the second most important food crop in Kenya after maize, generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along the value chain. Improved potato production has the potential to significantly boost farm incomes. While reality for most Kenyan farmers had long fallen short of that potential, recently introduced disease-resistant and heat-tolerant varieties are giving farmers the upper hand.

Potato Farming In Kenya; A Complete Farming Guide

As a result, the potato farming business is the most lucrative in Kenya due to the ready market and high demand for potatoes. Potato farming is expanding in Kenya and throughout Africa as a result of rising urbanization and the high demand for the crop.

Starting Potato Farming In Kenya

Even as most parts of Kenya are arable for Irish potato farming, it is important to identify land in one of the high-production areas. Leasing land for 1-3 years for this purpose may be a good choice for you especially if you don’t possess your piece of land. Currently, leasing a good chunk of land about 1km from the tarmac road in a place like Molo, Elburgon or Mau Narok will cost you between Ksh.20,000 to Ksh.50,000 per year.

When Selecting suitable land to farm potatoes, remember to consider accessibility, since you will need to transport your harvest to storage or a marketplace.

When picking land for your potato farming, evaluate the piece using the criteria mentioned below:

  1. Look for land with reddish soils
  2. Avoid land with a bad history of potato production
  3. Avoid land that lies adjacent to a river to minimize chances of frostbite

Potato Varieties In Kenya

1. Shangi:

  • Production: Approximately 8-12 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Shangi is known for its high yield potential and resistance to late blight. It has a smooth red skin and white flesh. It is well-suited for French fries and crisps production.
  • Important Notes: Shangi requires proper disease management and good agronomic practices to achieve its yield potential.

2. Dutch Robjin:

  • Production: Around 10-15 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Dutch Robjin potatoes have a yellow skin and yellow flesh. They are versatile and suitable for various cooking methods, including boiling, frying, and roasting.
  • Important Notes: This variety needs adequate spacing and proper irrigation for optimal tuber development.

3. Tigoni:

  • Production: Approximately 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Tigoni potatoes have a pale pink skin and creamy-white flesh. They are known for their good taste and are suitable for boiling, mashing, and making chips.
  • Important Notes: Proper pest and disease management, especially for late blight, is crucial for successful Tigoni cultivation.

4. Kenya Karibu:

  • Production: About 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Kenya Karibu has a red skin and white flesh. It is favored for its good culinary qualities and is suitable for multiple cooking methods.
  • Important Notes: Adequate soil fertility and proper irrigation are essential for achieving optimal yields with Kenya Karibu.

5. Roslin Eburu:

  • Production: Around 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Roslin Eburu has a pink skin and creamy flesh. It is a versatile variety suitable for boiling, frying, and processing into various products.
  • Important Notes: Implementing a proper crop rotation strategy helps manage pests and diseases for Roslin Eburu potatoes.

6. Asante:

  • Production: Approximately 8-12 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Asante potatoes have a red skin and white flesh. They are suitable for boiling, mashing, and processing into chips.
  • Important Notes: Asante is susceptible to certain diseases, so disease management practices are crucial for successful cultivation.

7. Sherekea:

  • Production: Around 12-16 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Sherekea potatoes have a red skin and light yellow flesh. They are versatile and can be used for various culinary purposes.
  • Important Notes: Sherekea has good resistance to late blight, but proper care should be taken to prevent other diseases and pests.

8. Kenya Mpya:

  • Production: Approximately 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Kenya Mpya potatoes have a red skin and light yellow flesh. They are suitable for processing and have good culinary qualities.
  • Important Notes: Implementing proper agronomic practices, including spacing and soil management, contributes to achieving desired yields.

9. Shangi Supa:

  • Production: Around 12-16 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Shangi Supa potatoes have a smooth red skin and white flesh. They are known for their high yield potential and resistance to diseases.
  • Important Notes: Shangi Supa is favored for its cooking versatility and is well-suited for both domestic consumption and processing.

10. Rudolf:

  • Production: Approximately 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Rudolf potatoes have a red skin and creamy flesh. They are suitable for boiling, frying, and processing into chips.
  • Important Notes: Proper management of pests and diseases, as well as regular monitoring, contribute to successful Rudolf potato farming.

11. Victoria:

  • Production: Around 10-15 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Victoria potatoes have a smooth red skin and white flesh. They are versatile and can be used for various cooking methods.
  • Important Notes: Victoria potatoes require careful attention to disease management, especially late blight, to achieve optimal yields.

12. Sagitta:

  • Production: Approximately 10-15 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Sagitta potatoes have a yellow skin and yellow flesh. They are favored for their good cooking qualities and can be used for a variety of dishes.
  • Important Notes: Adequate spacing and proper disease management are crucial for successful Sagitta potato cultivation.

13. Desiree:

  • Production: Around 12-16 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Desiree potatoes have a red skin and yellow flesh. They are known for their excellent taste and are suitable for boiling, roasting, and making crisps.
  • Important Notes: Desiree potatoes benefit from proper soil preparation and disease control measures for optimal performance.

14. Manitou:

  • Production: Approximately 10-14 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Manitou potatoes have a smooth red skin and white flesh. They are versatile and can be used for various culinary purposes.
  • Important Notes: Manitou potatoes thrive with proper irrigation and nutrient management practices.

15. Kenya Baraka:

  • Production: Around 10-15 sacks per acre.
  • Characteristics: Kenya Baraka has a red skin and creamy flesh. It is suitable for boiling, frying, and making crisps.
  • Important Notes: Adequate spacing, disease management, and regular monitoring contribute to successful Kenya Baraka potato farming.

NOTE;  actual production can vary based on factors such as soil fertility, climate, management practices, and disease control. It’s important to work closely with local agronomist and extension service providers to tailor your potato cultivation approach to your specific region and conditions. Proper disease management, irrigation, and soil nutrition are key factors in achieving successful potato yields regardless of the variety you choose to cultivate.

Is potato farming in Kenya profitable?

Yes. If you plant one acre with Changi potatoes, you’ll make a net profit of Ksh. 105,610 each season. It is after deducting Ksh. 16,790 in additional or other expenses, such as crop insurance, field visits, transportation costs, and other mishap-related costs.

Additionally, an acre of land can generate a gross profit of Ksh. 122,400. It is determined after total crop expenses of Ksh.127,600 are subtracted from Ksh.250,000 in total income.

Potatoes typically cost roughly Ksh 4,000 per bag in January and February when there is a shortage of them. It is therefore advisable to plant them before the year is out. Prices are at their lowest in July, when supply is plentiful.

Potato Yield Per Acre

Kenya produces an average of 10 tonnes per hectare per acre, although 20 to 25 tonnes per hectare is considered “ideal” production. That equates to a yield of 20,000–25,000 kg per acre.

However, a farmer must purchase certified potato seeds to acquire the highest output of potatoes per acre.

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service estimates that 60 to 70 percent of all seeds sown by Kenyan farmers come from the informal sector.

The majority of farmers replant seeds from previous harvests, which limits their capacity to increase yields.

How many bags of potatoes can one acre generate, you may be wondering? One acre of land might produce 80 bags of potatoes in three months.

Potato Production Cost Per Acre
From planting to harvesting, the price of planting one acre of potatoes in Kenya is approximately Ksh. 80,000.

Requirements for achieving high yields on Potato farming in Kenya

Altitude

Potato growers must consider the most suitable altitude for growing potatoes. Potato grows well at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 m above the sea level. Knowledge of altitude enables the grower to understand the challenges that exist in their region. At altitudes lower than 2,000 m, farmers face higher disease pressures from potato virus diseases due to higher aphid populations and incidences of bacteria wilt. The recommended altitude range for seed potato production in Kenya is above 2,100 m.

Soils

Potato can be grown in a wide range of soil, but a soil that is welldrained, with a loamy to sandy  loam texture is the best. The soil pH can range between 5 and 7, but the ideal pH is 5.5. The soil
should be deep, light, loose, and well drained but able to retain sufficient moisture.

Choice of crop variety

Careful selection of crop variety that is suited for a specific region is crucial for obtaining high yields. Selected varieties should be high yielding, disease resistant/tolerant, and have good storage and processing qualities.

Physiological age of the seed

A grower should use seed potato tubers that are healthy, strong, have good colour, and have broken dormancy with 4 to 6 sprouts per tuber.

Field preparation and planting

First ploughing should be done at least 15 to 30 days before potato planting. This initial ploughing should loosen the soil. Break any big soil clods with the help of spade before those clods harden. During the second ploughing just prior to planting, dig the field manually by spade to about a 30-cm depth and make ridges 25 to 30 cm tall and 30 to 35 cm in wide.

Topography and drainage

The position of the site within the landscape is important because it affects the drainage of the soil. Surface water runoff may carry away soil particles, valuable plant nutrients, and transport soil-borne diseases to other locations within the farm, or to neighbouring farms. Water logging can be a major stress that occurs mainly in flat landscapes receiving heavy rainfall amounts.

Temperature

The cooler the soil temperature, the more rapid the initiation of tubers and a greater the number of tubers will be formed. Optimum soil temperature for tuber formation is between 15 and 20°C. Higher temperatures reduce tuber formation. One way of avoiding high soil temperatures is timely ridging and adequate ridge volumes.

Field sanitation before planting potatoes

Fields should be cleared of the residues from the previous crop. If residues of earlier crops remain in the field, the larva of pests and disease may still be prevalent in the soil and harm the newly planted crop.

Early planting

For rainfed tuber production, the grower should prepare the field at least one month prior to onset of the rains to give any crop residue time to decompose. This will also give the grower adequate time to plant just before the rains start, which promotes quick emergence and crop establishment, and may allow the crop to escape major incidences of late or early blight. A crop that receives all the season’s rainfall is more likely to have good growth and produce high yields.

Seed health

Seed potato is generally the main source of insect pest and disease infection, because most seed-borne diseases are systemic, thus favouring disease transmission to the next generation of tubers.

Seed treatment with chemicals can never replace the use of highquality seed or proper handling. Therefore:

  1. use only disease-free seed,
  2. produce seed tubers in a disease-free environment and on land not infested with soil-borne diseases or insect pests,
  3. ensure proper sanitation by using clean tools when cutting seed to avoid transmitting diseases mechanically,
  4. adopt strict rotation procedures between fields,
  5. remove diseased plants including tubers, stolons and roots (bury them in a pit outside the field), while carefully avoiding spilling any infected soil on healthy plants,
  6. remove and destroy seed tubers infected by diseases or insect pests during storage, and
  7. make routine observations to identify insect pest- and disease-infected tubers in storage.

FEATURES OF QUALITY SEED TUBERS

  • Free from seed-borne disease and pests.
  • Seed tubers must not be mixed with other varieties.
  • High sprouting vigour.
  • Seed tuber weight should be 30 to 50 g to reduce the need for cutting that may introduce infection.
  • Visually, the seed tuber should be healthy, free of wrinkles, and disease symptoms.

Potato Farming In Kenya

Certified Potato Seeds

You may be tempted to take a short-cut by buying seeds from other farmers but you should know that this is the biggest mistake that most farmers make. If you want to get the best harvest, then you have to get the best disease-free seeds. A good source of these seeds is The Kisima Foundation, this is an organization that allows you to even pay by Mpesa and they deliver right outside your farm. The average cost of a bag of certified potato seeds is Ksh3,000.

Tips For Buying Seeds

  • Only buy certified seeds
  • Talk to local farmers about which breeds do well in the area around your farm.

Land Preparation On Potato Farming In Kenya

The field should be leveled, otherwise in the deeper parts water logging can occur which will affect your plants and reduce yields.

Prepare the soil before planting in a way that will give you about 28-30 cm of loose soil in the depth.

When you want to have a nice and equal field with plants it is good to grade the seeds into several sizes. In Kenya we have 2 seed sizes; Size 1 is 28-45mm (egg size) and Size 2 is 45-60mm (fist size).

Try to work properly with the row-distances of 75cms; it makes the ridging much easier. Place the seed just under the ground and make a little ridge above it, so that the seeds are just below the surface. It is important all seeds are planted at same depth to ensure even germination and ease of harvesting.

When you want to do your land preparations mechanically, we suggest you use a horizontal working rotovator to ensure you get enough loose soil for the 30cms depth.

In case you have been working your land with a disc plough for many seasons, you may have a hard pan right under the top soil. You will need to break this hard pan using either a ripper or a chisel plough. This will allow for better root penetration for your potato, but also other crops resulting in a stronger, healthier crop and eventually higher yields and higher quality tubers. This should translate into more profit for the farmer. At the same having good loose soil also means better aerated soil and better drainage of water.

If you are using a tractor for planting, use narrow wheels to avoid destroying your ridges, or having a lot of space between the ridges. You can use a bed-former or moulding board or ridger first, and then plant your seeds in the ridges, not in the furrows.

Avoid working with machinery on wet soils, lest you create a hard pan.

In order to control erosion and damage from heavy rains, it is advisable for the farmer to dig small water holes in between the ridges. These holes will hold water and soil in case of very heavy rains. You can dig about 2-3 holes per meter, about 10cms or 6 inches deep, in between your ridges. This will also help with water retention in case of drought.

Planting Distance On Potato Farming in Kenya

The distance of the plants in the row depends on the size of the seeds and also on the variety. Good grading and even separation of tubers at planting will optimize the crop and result in better yields for the farmer, therefore more profitable potato farming. For ware potato growing, an average of 18 stems per square meter are required (3 –5 stems per meter in the row) at a row width of 75cm.

If you follow the recommended spacing as above ranging from 25 – 35cms between the tubers, and 75cms between the rows, you will need about 800 – 1,000kgs (16-20 bags) of seed size 1 and 1,000 – 1,500 (20-30 bags) of seed size 2 to cover 1 acre. The targeted plant population per acre is about 18,000 plants.

The good thing with potatoes is that they only take 90 days to mature. But in order for that to happen (and in order for the yield to be profitable) you need to ensure that your crop is well watered either through rain or irrigation.

Ridging on Potato Farming In Kenya

Ridging or hilling up the soil around the potato plant, helps the farmer in many ways. One is controlling weeds. The best moment to re-ridge is when the new plant is just emerging, at the 4-8 leave stage. If there are weeds at this stage, you can cover them together with the potato plant, and they will not be strong enough to re-emerge, contrary to your potato plant.

A second reason for re-ridging is to give the new tubers more space to grow. A big ridge also protects your tubers from growing out of the ridge onto the surface area, and as a result becoming green because of exposure to sunlight. Green tubers are not suitable for consumption, they are poisonous!

Manual (re)ridging can be done with a jembe or hoe, where you dig some loose soil from the furrow and put it on top of the ridge. The soil you heap to form a ridge also plays an important role to protect the young roots and stolons from the scorching sun when there are no rains. The trenches between ridges helps in harvesting the water during the rains, thus keeping your soil most until another rainfall.

Always be careful not to cut the stolons and roots when digging up the soil for ridging; they grow very close to the surface and if you damage them a lower yield will be the result. Ridging / hilling up is making a nice wide and high ridge. If the planting has been done properly just 2cms of soil will be added on top of the original ridge. Never bury new plants deeper than 4cms, as this may stress or suffocate the plant and will bring an enormous decrease in yield. Do not ridge on very wet, or very dry, soils. Moderate soil moisture is necessary for good firm ridges.

When using a tractor, you need narrow wheels to ensure you do not break or destroy the ridges with the tyres.

Planting Potatoes

Prior to planting, make a planting bed with approximately 20 to 25 cm of loose soil mixed with fertilizer and/or manure to allow proper rooting and hilling.

Planting potatoes can be done using different methods, but the most common method is using “seed pieces.”

  1. Cut the Seed Potatoes: Cut the larger seed potatoes into pieces, each containing at least one or two healthy sprouts or “eyes.” Make sure each seed piece is approximately 1.5 to 2 inches (4-5 cm) in size.
  2. Allow Cut Surfaces to Heal: Allow the cut surfaces of the seed pieces to air dry for a day or two. This helps prevent rotting when planted.
  3. Planting Depth and Spacing: Dig shallow trenches or furrows about 4 inches (10 cm) deep. Place the seed pieces in the trenches, eye side up, with a spacing of about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) between pieces. Rows should be spaced about 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) apart.
  4. Cover with Soil: Gently cover the seed pieces with soil, ensuring they are buried to a depth of about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm). As the plants grow, you can gradually mound soil around the base of the plants to encourage tuber development.

Harvesting Potato

Your plants are ready for harvesting when the foliage has completely dried up, i.e. leaves have wilted and turned yellow or brown and dry, and also the stems feeding the tubers need to have dried off.

Harvesting should be done under good weather conditions, not too warm and not too wet. Prevent bruising the tubers by waiting until the skin of tubers is hardened off enough. You can do the ‘finger test’, with rubbing your thumb over a harvested tuber.

If the skin of the tuber comes off, or peels, that is an indicator the tubers are not yet ready for harvesting.

Treat potatoes like eggs, they are very sensitive and fragile. Damaged and bruised potatoes are more susceptible for diseases and are likely to lose more weight during storage.

Storage

Often the prices of potatoes are not so good during the harvesting period since most farmers will plant and also harvest all at the same time. In such case you can decide to store your potatoes and wait for better prices.

When storing potatoes, it is very important to do it correct. The potatoes must be ventilated mechanically or by natural ventilation in order to dry the tubers. You need to be careful to keep the potatoes dry but not to dry them out and cause weight loss.

If you are storing the potatoes in a place that has held potatoes before, you need to disinfect the store from last years’ crop before putting in your fresh, clean potatoes. Otherwise, potatoes can still pick up diseases from the storage facility.

Depending on desired storage time one has to look at different storage options. It is important for processing varieties (chips, crisps) that the tuber temperature does not drop below 7 degrees Celsius, otherwise sugar-content may increase above the required levels. This will not be acceptable to the processors as it will give them brown chips or crisps.

The cleaner (without dirt and rot and cuts) the crop is brought into the store, the better it will stay during storage.

Stages of potato crop growth and development

Potato growth is generally characterized by the following five stages.

Growth Stage 1: Sprout development – Sprout develop from the eyes using energy from the seed tuber (pinch off the first sprout to remove apical dominance).

Growth Stage 2: Vegetative growth – Development of leaves, branches, and stolons (right time for earthing up). Growth stage 1 and 2 takes roughly 4 to 10 weeks depending on environmental conditions, physiological age of the tubers, and variety.

Growth Stage 3: Tuber set (initiation) – Tubers begin to form at the stolon tips but with little enlargement. Biochemical signals trigger the plant to initiate the development of belowground tubers. This is the stage where nutrient accumulation is rapid and shortages of nutrient uptake will cause declines in the final yield. Flowering starts at the end of this stage.

Growth Stage 4: Tuber bulking – Tuber enlargement caused by accumulation of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates. At this stage the plant shifts photosynthates and nutrients to the rapidly expanding tubers. This is the peak period of demand for plant nutrients. Nutrient shortage at this stage can cause significant yield reduction. Many agronomists carefully monitor tissue nutrient concentrations during this period to avoid any preventable stress on the plants. This stage is the longest and can last for more than 1.5 months.

Growth Stage 5: Maturation – Dry matter content is at a maximum. Vines turn yellow and tuber growth slows down as photosynthesis declines. Tuber growth continues during the phase, but the rate slows as the plants prepare for maturation and harvest at the peak of dry matter accumulation. De-haulming is performed to harden the skin at this stage (very important to ensure good quality
produce).

Pests and diseases to look out for in Irish potato farming in Kenya

Pests and diseases that are not properly controlled may cause up to 100% loss of your farm produce. It is therefore important to prevent their occurrence through prophylaxis by the use of the necessary herbicides and pesticides.

Your nearest Agro vet will help you with this.

Below is a list of the most common pest and disease infections facing Irish potatoes in Kenya:

Pest/DiseaseSymptoms
Late BlightDark lesions on leaves and stems, white mould on the underside of leaves
Potato Cyst NematodeStunted growth, yellowing leaves, reduced yields
Colorado Potato BeetleStripped leaves, defoliation, reduced yields
Green Peach AphidsSticky residue on leaves, curling leaves, reduced yields
WirewormsHoles in potato tubers reduced yields
Fusarium WiltYellowing leaves, wilting plants, reduced yields
Leaf RollAffected plants show wilting, curling, and yellowing of leaves. Leaves may become stiff, brittle and crinkled.
Mosaic PVYAffected plants show mottling and yellowing of leaves, reduced growth, and smaller tubers.
Net NecrosisAffected plants show net-like patterns on leaves, stunted growth, and necrotic spots on tubers.

FAQs

  1. What is the best time to plant potatoes in Kenya?

The best time to plant potatoes in Kenya is from June to July. The soil should be warm enough, but not too hot.

  1. What is the best variety of potato to grow in Kenya?

There are many different varieties of potatoes that can be grown in Kenya. Some popular varieties include Shangi, Kenya Mpya, Sherehekea, Manitou, and Unica.

  1. How much space do potatoes need to grow?

Potatoes need about 12-18 inches of space between plants.

  1. How deep should potatoes be planted?

Potatoes should be planted 2-3 inches deep.

  1. How much water do potatoes need?

Potatoes need about 1 inch of water per week.

  1. What kind of fertilizer do potatoes need?

Potatoes need a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10.

  1. How do you hill potatoes?

Hilling potatoes is the process of mounding soil around the plants to protect the developing tubers from the sun and frost. To hill potatoes, use a hoe to mound soil around the plants, leaving the tops of the plants exposed.

  1. When are potatoes ready to harvest?

Potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow.

  1. How do you harvest potatoes?

To harvest potatoes, use a garden fork to dig up the potatoes carefully so as not to damage them.

  1. What are some common pests and diseases of potatoes?

Some common pests of potatoes include potato beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and wireworms. Some common diseases of potatoes include late blight, powdery scab, and blackleg.

  1. How do you control pests and diseases of potatoes?

There are a number of ways to control pests and diseases of potatoes. Some common methods include crop rotation, planting resistant varieties, and using pesticides.

  1. What are the benefits of growing potatoes?

Potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. They are also a relatively easy crop to grow.

  1. What are the challenges of growing potatoes?

Some challenges of growing potatoes include pests, diseases, and weather conditions.

  1. How much profit can be made from growing potatoes?

The profit that can be made from growing potatoes depends on a number of factors, including the variety of potato grown, the yield, and the market price.

  1. What are the government policies and incentives for potato farming in Kenya?

The government of Kenya provides a number of policies and incentives for potato farming. These include subsidies for fertilizer, training for farmers, and market access.

  1. What are the future prospects for potato farming in Kenya?

The future prospects for potato farming in Kenya are good. The demand for potatoes is increasing, and the government is supportive of the industry.

  1. What are the challenges to the future of potato farming in Kenya?

Some challenges to the future of potato farming in Kenya include climate change, pests, and diseases.

  1. What are some tips for successful potato farming in Kenya?

Some tips for successful potato farming in Kenya include choosing the right variety, preparing the soil, planting at the right time, watering regularly, fertilizing appropriately, hilling the plants, and harvesting at the right time.

  1. Where can I get more information about potato farming in Kenya?

There are a number of resources available for farmers who are interested in growing potatoes in Kenya. These include the Ministry of Agriculture, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, and the Kenya Seed Company.

  1. What are some common mistakes that farmers make when growing potatoes in Kenya?

Some common mistakes that farmers make when growing potatoes in Kenya include planting the wrong variety, planting at the wrong time, not watering enough, not fertilizing enough, not hilling the plants, and harvesting too early.

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