Esther Maina, a farmer from Mkogodo East ward in Laikipia county, has struck gold with the Unica potato variety.

Unica Potato Variety: Laikipia Farmer Cashing In

She has been cultivating this unique potato for a year and praises its distinctive qualities.

“It’s unique because it requires fewer chemicals, is drought-resistant, matures quickly in three months and the yield is abundant,” Maina said.

The potatoes, she says, are ideal for making fries, which inspired her to start a small business selling chips to residents.

They also have a longer shelf life, lasting six months or more, compared to other varieties that deterioriate within four months post-harvest.

“Unica also commands a better price, with a kilogramme selling at Sh100 or more, while Shangi potatoes sell for Sh50 per kilo. The yield is impressive, too—you can harvest about 80 bags of other varieties per acre, but with Unica, you get 300 bags of 90kg. One stem of Unica can produce 20 potatoes or more,” she said.

According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, potatoes are Kenya’s second most important food crop after maize.

Around 800,000 small producers cultivate potatoes on about 115,604 hectares, producing about 1.6 million metric tonnes annually.

Data from the International Potato Centre reveals that European settlers introduced potatoes to Africa in the late 1800s, and since then, production has expanded, creating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along the value chain.

KALRO, in collaboration with CIP, continues to develop more resilient and higher-yielding potato varieties that meet consumer preferences.

Released in 2016, the climate-resilient Unica variety has not yet been widely adopted by farmers. However, CIP indicates that it thrives in both highlands and lowlands, in both rainy and dry conditions and is resistant to viruses and late blight.

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Agneta Makutwa, Laikipia project officer with FAO, said that farmers are embracing climate-smart agriculture to cope with climate change.

She said that potato production in the area is increasing due to the adoption of the Unica variety, which is particularly valued for its drought resistance.

“We have also seen value addition with the Nyota bean variety, rich in iron, promoted by KALRO and adopted again due to drought,” she said.

The Women Economic Empowerment Climate Smart Agriculture project, funded by KOICA-Kenya and implemented by FAO, UN Women and Hand in Hand in collaboration with Laikipia, West Pokot and Kitui counties, aims to empower women by increasing farm production and income and enabling them to advocate for policies and budgets.

In Laikipia county, the programme is being implemented in three wards: Tigithi, Umande and Mkogodo East.

“We have seen the county ensure women’s involvement in public participation and their voices being heard. Counties have also allocated budgets for water resources, dug several boreholes and improved roads to help farmers access markets and inputs,” Makutwa said.

She added that with the training provided, farmers have increased their production and adopted new technologies like water harvesting, dam liners and conservation agriculture to boost yields.

Makutwa added that the project has empowered women to speak out without fear, changing the dynamic in families where men now support women owning and managing land.

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