Category Archives: Grow sweet potato commercially in Kenya

How to Grow Bigger Sweet Potatoes in Kenya

Large sweet potatoes being sold by the roadside in Western Kenya
Large sweet potatoes being sold by the roadside in Western Kenya

Sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow but very few Kenyan farmers realize the full potential of their sweet potato crop. This usually happens when the sweet potatoes are smaller in size and hence fetch a lower price in the market. Larger and bigger sweet potatoes always mean more money in your pockets. Here are some tips on how to make sure that your sweet potatoes are bigger:-

Dig deeper

There is a reason why we emphasized land preparation and mound preparation as some of the most important steps when it comes to sweet potato farming in Kenya. And when it comes to land preparation, it is always advisable to dig deeper into the soil so as to promote the growth of larger-sized sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes love loose and un-compacted soil where they can grow to very good sizes. It is also easier to harvest your sweet potatoes from a loose and un-compacted soils than from hardened soils. Deep, loose and un-compacted soils will add extra spaces in the soil for the sweet potato root tuber development. When prepping land, bury the organic matter into the soils so as to loosen up the soil. However, weeds are not supposed to be buried in the soil as they are likely to sprout when it begins to rain. Instead, collect the weeds and burn them up.

Plant at the right time

Sweet potatoes love mild rains and hotter temperatures so don’t be too eager to plant your sweet potatoes that you plant them even before the onset of rains or during very cold weather. In Kenya, the weather is mostly favourable throughout the year in the areas conducive for sweet potato growing.

Plant at the onset rains

If you plant your sweet potatoes during the dry seasons, they are either all going to wither off or if they survive, they will produce small sized and fewer sweet potatoes and you will have wasted a season. Sweet potatoes require sunshine and moist soils so it is always advisable to plant at the onset of rains.

The most important period in the life of sweet potatoes is the first two weeks. This is the period when they need to be well watered in order to sprout well.

Keeping your sweet potato vines in check

The sweet potato varieties grown in Kenya including the yellow fleshed sweet potatoes, the orange fleshed sweet potatoes and even the white skinned-white fleshed sweet potato varieties are vining types. They spread their vines around laterally. If the conditions are right such as fertile soils and plenty of rainfall, the tendril growth can be quite vigorous. While this can be a good thing initially, excessive vining will actually impede your yield. The excess stems and leaves can actually be a burden; eating too much space, impeding sunshine for other sweet potato plants and depleting the minerals in the soil. At some point, it is advisable to prune off some of the excess vining. These can be used as compost or replanted elsewhere. Ideally, allow for tendril growth for up to three feet within the mother sweet potato plant to prevent excessive vining from preventing the formation of large sweet potatoes. Keeping the vines well pruned will also make harvesting your sweet potato crop in Kenya a lot easier.


How to Achieve Success with Sweet Potato Farming in Kenya

Success is not always assured for many poultry farmers in Kenya. There are many reasons for this. Some enter into the venture without good knowledge of the right varieties to plant, the best time to plant or the local market conditions. There are some farmers who venture into sweet potato farming in Kenya without even knowing how to do the actual planting in itself. While it is good to take risks, blind risks can be costly. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are planning to venture into sweet potato production in Kenya:-

Know the Right Varieties of Sweet Potato to Plant

There are three main types of sweet potatoes that are consumed in Kenya. These include the yellow fleshed and purple skinned sweet potato varieties, the white fleshed and white skinned sweet potato varieties and the orange fleshed sweet potato varieties. There is a small niche market for the white skinned and white fleshed variety of sweet potatoes. However, the one that is most consumed by the populace and which is also the most commercially viable is the yellow fleshed and purple skinned sweet potato variety shown below. Increasingly, the orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) variety is also gaining popularity. But if you are planning to grow your sweet potatoes for money, go for the yellow fleshed variety which is easily sold locally.

Yellow Fleshed Sweet Potatoes in Kenya
Yellow Fleshed Sweet Potatoes

Procure Quality Sweet Potato Vines

The quality of vines that you plant can make a huge difference. Poor quality vines are going to lead to poor quality yields and subsequently, losses in your sweet potato venture. Choose sweet potato vines that are young and clean. Ideally, you should plant sweet potato vines that are two months old as these tend to be quite vigorous, clean, pest-free, wilt-free and disease free. They will therefore lead to bumper harvest.

Sweet Potato Vines in Kenya
Sweet Potato Vines in Kenya

Prepare land and mounds well

Land preparation will make a huge a difference in your success as a sweet potato farmer. As we have stated in previous posts, land should be prepared in advance before the onset of the rains to allow the weeds to dry and rot out during the dry seasons. However, the mounds should be prepared on the day of the planting or at least a few days before planting to allow for easy insertion of vines deep into the soil.

Sweet Potato Mounds
Sweet Potato Mounds

Planting the right way

When planting sweet potatoes, make sure that you space them correctly and that the vines are inserted deep into the mounds. The mounds should also be deep enough. Wrong planting techniques often lead to lower yields from your sweet potato farm.

Planting sweet potatoes in Kenya
Planting sweet potatoes in Kenya

Weeding on time

Weeds can significantly reduce the yields of your sweet potato harvest. It is, therefore, advisable to weed your sweet potatoes early on before they take root in the soil. Do it at 6-8 weeks and continue doing in case they re-emerge in the subsequent weeks.

Planting at the right time

If you plant early enough when other farmers are not planting, you will harvest your sweet potatoes when there is less supply in the market and you can therefore fetch very good market prices for a bag of sweet potatoes. Ideally, do it from October to December if there are good rains. But you can always plant your sweet potatoes at any time of the year as long as there are good rains.

Planted sweet potato vines after a few weeks
Planted sweet potato vines after a few weeks

Know your market

The main market for sweet potatoes in Kenya is in Nairobi and it is important to be in tune with the prevailing market prices so that you can harvest when the prices are higher. Price per 100Kg to 110Kg of sweet potatoes will generally vary from Ksh.5000 when there is a supply glut to Ksh.9000 when there is less supply.

Sweet Potato Harvested in Kenya
Sweet Potato Harvested in Kenya

Manage your costs

Managing sweet potato planting costs will generally lead to greater profitability in your sweet potato farming venture. Some of the costs that you should manage include land preparation costs, sweet potato vines procurement costs, planting and harvesting costs.

Commercial Sweet Potato Farming in Kenya

Commercial Sweet Potato Farming in Kenya
Commercial Sweet Potato Farming in Kenya

Can you grow sweet potatoes commercially in Kenya? The answer is yes and we have done it for decades. Sweet potato consumption has increased considerably in the country in the past decades with the main sweet potato market in Nairobi absorbing close to 90% of the sweet potato grown commercially in the country. Other major, albeit much smaller, markets for sweet potato are Kisii, Nyamira, Kericho and Nakuru. There is also a growing uptake of sweet potatoes in Mombasa although for many farmers upcountry, especially from Western Kenya, the transportation costs can be prohibitive.

The size of the market alone makes sweet potato farming in Kenya a commercially viable venture. To grow it on a commercial scale, you will have to put more acreage under farming and plant at the right time. You have to weed and harvest at the right time so as to make the most of your venture. A 10 acre land should yield over 200 bags of sweet potatoes and at market prices ranging from Ksh.5000 to Ksh.7500, that easily adds up to Ksh.1 million to Ksh.1.5 million minimum revenues within a period of only 5 months.

There are certain things to keep in mind when planning to grow your sweet potato commercially. These include the following:-

  • Put more acreage under cultivation
  • Prepare land early just before the onset of the rains
  • Ensure you have prepared the sweet potato mounds correctly and that they are deep enough so as to allow for full development of the root tubers.
  • Plant in time just at the onset of rains
  • Secure the best quality and disease free sweet potato vines
  • Weed your sweet potatoes in time
  • Harvest in time
  • Prepare prompt transportation from your farm to the market in Nairobi

If you are planning to put more land under cultivation, we advise that you prepare yourself financially as there are various costs involved before your crop will be ready for harvesting and marketing.