In Summary
  • Residents of the arid Wajir County are embracing horticulture farming, in particular potato cultivation, after a recent trial turned out successful.
  • Herweijer notes that contrary to popular belief, potatoes can actually grow almost everywhere in Kenya, as long as there is no frost at night and no extreme heat during the day.
  • Wajir’s population is now moving from core pastoralism to more agro-pastoral activities, including planting other crops like sorghum, maize and cereals.
  • Skin that is well-set on potatoes helps to prevent it from harvest-damage such as superficial cuts and bruises,” she observes.

Bute is a fertile yet arid region about 200km from Wajir Town, towards the mountainous border area with Ethiopia.

It sits just a few kilometres from Moyale town, and for several years, nomadic livestock-keeping has been the local’s mainstay.

But this is fast-changing as residents embrace horticulture farming, in particular potato cultivation, after a recent trial turned out successful.

“The area around Bute has rich soils for crop cultivation but only lack sufficient water,” says Wajir South sub-county agriculture extension officer, Hussein Ahmed Mohamud.

Mohamud notes Habaswein in Wajir South, through which Ewaso Nyiro River crosses, as well as Wajir Central, which has some oases, have slightly saline soils but are still conducive for crop cultivation, including potato farming.

These soils range from sandy-clay to sandy-loam to pure clay, and with the right farming practices, potatoes do well.

Experts advise that testing such soils before cultivation is key as due to high alkalinity or salinity, there could likely be poor or no germination.

“In Kenya, the perception has been that potatoes only grow well in colder and wetter areas like Meru, Molo and Kinangop.

But shockingly, we tried potato farming in Wajir, one of the hottest and driest counties and it worked?” says Corien Herweijer, the business development manager at Agrico East Africa, a subsidiary of Agrico BV (Netherlands), a global producer of seed potato.

Herweijer notes that contrary to popular belief, potatoes can actually grow almost everywhere in Kenya, as long as there is no frost at night and no extreme heat during the day.

“Water is important though, so one can depend either on rainfall or irrigation. But soil testing is a must, you spend a little on it but it saves you a lot more,” she adds.

ENHANCE FOOD SECURITY

How much water potato needs, according to her, depends a lot on the soil type, temperatures, and variety, as moisture is needed in the soil at planting, at tuber setting, and later during full growth period.

“If you can clump the soil in your hand and if it remains a solid piece, this indicates that it is moist enough. If you clump the soil and have a lot of water draining from your hand, then it is too wet. If you clump and it falls apart, then it is too dry. So through irrigation, you can ideally provide at least 15mm of water per week, depending on soil type,” she advises.

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