By Marion Wagaki
Root and tuber crops market grows on new dietary habits
In Kenya, the market for the root and tuber crops is expected to continue growing, driven partly by rapid urbanisation and changing dietary habits among residents.
Perceptions around the crops are changing, with middle class and upper class people no longer looking at them as food for the lowincome groups.
However, Dr Oscar Magenya, the Agriculture Research Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, said smallholders need support to commercialise the production of root and tuber crops.
“The production of main root crops such as cassava, sweet potato, coco yam and yams remains below potential and the status therefore presents a challenge to policymakers, researchers and other value chain actors to strengthen the root and tuber value chains in order to increase their competitiveness in our agri-food systems,” Dr Magenya said recently during the 19th International Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC).
The Kenyan government, he said, recognises the challenges of the subsector and has laid out a clear roadmap for its sustainable growth and development under the National Root and Tuber Crops Development Strategy 2019-2022.
“The National Root and Tuber Crops Strategy aims at advancing the development of the root and tuber crops in Kenya from an initial focus on high-
yielding varieties and pest and disease tolerance, to include a wider range of other intervention areas that are essential to the sub-sector,” he said.
“The government seeks to confront the perennial food and nutrition insecurity challenges thus competitiveness and viability of root and tuber value chains will depend on improvements on inclusive business models, sustainable intensification of production and the strengthening of the capacity of small and medium enterprises (SME) and farmer organisations.”
The symposium also explored opportunities that biotechnology techniques can offer for improving the production and quality of these crops. Prof Lateef Sanni, the President of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC), said the threats to food systems that have made it difficult for innovations to reach farmers’ hands and the shocks from the war in Ukraine have brought to the fore the importance of root and tuber crops.
“Empirical data show that root and tuber crops are the most important commodities for food security nutrition and income generation particularly among smallholder farmers. As resilient crops, roots and tubers might assist farmers in adapting to climate change and fluctuation,” he said.
The Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) Director General, Dr Eliud Kireger,
said that root and tuber crops are sources of income for our farmers, are climateresilient and provide carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and raw materials for industrial food processing and blending. KALRO in collaboration with partners have developed and released over 19 varieties of cassava, over 50 Irish potato varieties and over 24 varieties of sweet potato.
“Enhanced production of roots and tuber crops is expected to make a huge contribution to our economy and to the achievement of Vision 2030 and we believe that the technologies, innovations and management practices on root and tuber crops that will be shared, and partnerships and linkages that will be created through this forum will help boost food and nutritional security for all our people,” said KALRO Director, Crops Research systems, Dr Lusike Wasilwa.
In Kenya, cassava, Irish potato and sweet potato are cultivated on about 61,000ha, 18,5000ha and 6,000ha respectively. The estimated per capita consumption of cassava, potato and sweet potato is 20kgs, 33kgs and 18 kgs, respectively while the annual production is estimated as 0.82 million MT, 1.7 million MT, and 0.81 million MT respectively.
Based on the current population of 54 million, the country’s cassava, Irish potato and sweet potato requirement is 1.1 million MT, 1.8 million MT, and 1.0 million MT respectively. This indicates a national demand deficit for cassava, potato and sweet potato of 0.25 million MT, 0.08 million MT and 0.16 million MT respectively.