Red-fleshed potatoes

Red-fleshed potatoes

Our population is growing at an amazing rate and this translates to an increase in food demand. This calls for increasing our agricultural productivity as well as diversifying. Having said that, I am going to write about an agricultural product that I think if nothing is done, it is going to be forgotten despite the important role it can play in abating the food security issue.
The mention of the word sweet potato reminds me of my childhood. This is one of the meals that have contributed in making me but my only worry is that it is being forgotten despite its vital role in abating food security. People prefer refined foods such as “mandazi” and bread to this traditional food.
Traditional they may be but potatoes have proven health benefits. On this basis, eating of potatoes should be promoted and people taught how to plant and manage them. Sweet potato growing is not a hard task as people think. First, they come in different varieties. The common type of sweet potatoes grown in Kenya are the yellow, dry-flesh type although others such as orange –flesh exist but in small numbers. The yellow dry-flesh types include those such as Jersey and Jewel varieties. All these varieties are reliable as they are drought resistant and do not depend on rains for them to produce- a perfect choice given the unpredictable weather patterns here.
Sweet potatoes may be grown on flat soils or in raised bumps or soil collected together. For growing on raised bumps, the following simple steps may be followed;

  • Prepare your piece of land to remove weeds and stones during the dry season.
  • Spread organic manure from livestock then plough again to ensure mixing of the nutrients with soil.
  • Make the soil into raised bumps with a spacing of 32 to 42 inches apart and in-row 12 spacing of 8 to inches.
  • Insert your slips on either side of the raised bumps (4 to 5 inches deep). The potatoes take about 5 to 6 months for them to be ready. The planting should be done during the warm season.

Crop management
As part of managing the sweet-potato crop, weeding between the rows before the vines cover the beds and shade out the weeds is a necessity. During early stages of development, watering is also important. As the vines grow, continue piling soil around the bumps to provide more space for tuber formation.
When it comes to pests and disease management, it should be noted that the main pests are insects, nematodes and diseases that affect the roots. Fusarium wilts will lead to collapse of vascular system and become unable to transfer water and nutrients up from the roots. Root-knot nematodes cause deformed roots and tubers. The sweet potato weevil is an insect whose larvae can feed inside stems, where damage is relatively minimal, but they can also infest tubers, which is a serious problem. Weevil-damaged tubers develop bitter substances that prevent the tubers from being used even as animal fodder. Most of these pest problems can be overcome by good sanitation and cultural practices, including the use of disease- and weevil-free seed potatoes for transplants, rotating sweet-potato fields to discourage yearly pest carry-over, and using rootless cuttings for transplants.
Harvesting and Storage of the sweet potatoes
While harvesting, it is important to make every effort to minimize injuries to the tender skin on the roots. Undamaged potatoes will sell better and have a much longer storage life. Do not expose the freshly harvested potatoes to the sun for more than 1 hour. Newly harvested sweet potatoes are not very sweet. They require one or two months of storage and curing before they will develop the sweet, moist taste. After harvesting, store them in a humid, dark and warm (80 to 90 degrees F) room for a week or so before being moved to temperature-controlled (ideally, 60 degrees F) long-term storage. It should be noted that when the temperature in the storage area is too cold, the tubers will develop a hard center, but if the temperature is too hot, the tubers may shrivel and sprout.
Nutritional values
Sweet potatoes are fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free and provides more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, along with high levels of protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, folic acid, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, beta carotene, and vitamin C, E and B6. Also, the edible skins of sweet potatoes are highly nutritious .These nutrients are essential for human skin.
Besides the nutritional benefits, potatoes can also be a source of income to the farmer through selling of the surplus. With science, even better varieties are being developed and this presents an opportunity for the youths. Embrace potato farming for enhanced food security and increased incomes.

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