Sweet Potato Planting Material Production

In our work to conserve agro-biodiversity we empower farmers to save planting materials for crops that are rarely bred commercially. In our previous newsletter we highlighted on planting material production for pumpkins. In this issue we will be discussing planting material production for sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato is equally a very important staple crop in Kenya. It is grown and consumed extensively as a root crop, the leaves as a vegetable sauce. Both roots and leaves are sold in the market. The plant is a herbaceous perennial vine, bearing alternate heart-shaped or palmate-lobed leaves and medium-sized sympetalous flowers. The edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin whose color ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato varieties with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh. The sweet potato is a warm-season, spreading vegetable of tropical origin. It is a good choice for a garden because it is easy to grow, is drought- / heat-tolerant, and has few pests or diseases. The sweet potato is also very nutritious and low in calories.


Major uses of sweet potato:

  • Consumption of fresh roots or leaves (vines)
  • Animal feed
  • Flour
  • Snack
Freshly-dug sweet potato plants with tubers
Freshly-dug sweet potato plants with tubers

There are three classes; breeder, basic and certified.

Classes of seed/planting material

Classes of planting materials are:

1 Breeder seed: Breeder seed is the variety released and maintained by the breeder.

2 Basic/foundation seed:

This is the progeny of breeder seed. Its production is normally under the control of mandated institutions under the direct supervision of a national certification agency.

Planting sweet potatoes using Vines

Good quality vines should be planted and is achieved using the following guidelines:

Select vines that are healthy, vigorous and lush growth. Tender and medium (semi-mature) parts for planting.

Cuttings from bases of vines carry the sweet potato worm (SPW) and the sweet potato stem borer.

Avoid plants with pests and diseases especially the SPW and the SPVD. Many sweet potato pests and diseases are stem=borne and spread through distribution and planting of infested or diseased cuttings.

Vines for planting should come from actively growing and disease-free plants.

The vines should be shoot tip cuttings since the meristematic cells are still actively dividing.

2-3 node cuttings are recommended.

Seed Savers Network Spearhead 2000M2 Field in Kenya

Salome Wambui and Peter Maina on their field in Gilgil, Kenya
Salome Wambui and Peter Maina on their field in Gilgil, Kenya

If all arable land in the world (1.4 Billion Ha) was divided with the population(7 Billion) each could get 2000m2. The project target at identifying the amount and diversity of crops that can be grown in this field. Click here to read more about the aim of 2000m2 initiative. In Kenya we are implementing this project with Maina’s Family who are among our farming community network in Gilgil with our key message to the whole world being food sovereignty. Already we have provided this family with seeds to ensure crop diversity in their field as we wait for the project to commence in February 2017. Click here to read more about 2000m2 field in Kenya.

Our first and second blog depicting the current state of the field, the neighboring landscape, family members and the fodder section is online in their website. The project also aims at communicating possible agricultural policies to policy makers in the whole world by showing the outcomes of 2000M2  and the people it can feed.


Where do Farmers Get Fruit Tree Seedlings?

With Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Inspector at our avocado nursery
With Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Inspector at our avocado nursery

To many this is a question they rarely ask. All they know is that most of the seeds are bought in agro shops which are supplied by multinational seed companies. Why not fruit trees? What is relevance of community seed systems filling the gap? As an organization is our mission to conserve agro –biodiversity. We work for improved seedlings access by training farmers to establish fruit tree nurseries.

Seed Savers Network Training Local and International Visitors

Students from University of Gastronomic Sciences (Italy) with Mwitamayu self-Help Group
Hosting students from University of Gastronomic Sciences (Italy) with Mwitamayu self-Help Group

As interest in seed saving grows, more people are being attracted to our work. Seed Savers Network is an ideal organization to train and provide practical exposure on agro-biodiversity conservation. Our approach involves engaging those interested in our work in field activities with the farming community to enhance their understanding of agro-biodiversity conservation and seed banking. The Seeds Savers Network Extension Department has also developed a Seed Saving Extension Manual to be used as a reference guide which is available for only KSh 500.

One example of this was a one-day academic tour provided to students from Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences. The event started with an early morning interactive session in which students were oriented on agro-biodiversity conservation over a cup of tea with Seed Savers staff. Students were provided a copy of the Seed Saving Extension Manual which outlines how to save open pollinated seeds. The students then saw organic farming in practice in the demonstration garden managed by our interns from organic training colleges (Baraka and Manor House College). They were later engaged in weeding the avocado seedlings where they were exposed to nursery seed management practices. The day ended by interacting with 30 farmers in Mwitamayu Self-Help Group where we had a common lunch. The farmers enjoyed their company by learning greetings in Italian. The students were later taken through the process of agro-biodiversity conservation (selection, field management practices, harvesting, sorting and storage in the seed bank). A total of 15 students attended along with their tutor. It was clear from the smiles on the students faces that this was a pleasant and fruitful event.

Ministry Of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries officials at our seedbank
Ministry Of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries official at our seed bank following the training on agro-biodiversity conservation

A similar interest in our work prompted a visit from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. This group was analyzing the state of seed saving in the country and wanted to see a seed bank, so Seed Savers Network arranged for them to see the seed banks of two local farmer groups. We were glad to see an interest in the so called ‘orphaned crops’ which are not bred by commercial breeders for food security.


Interview with Hansels from Netherlands
Interview with Hansels from Netherlands

Our work has attracted international Journalists Hans Wetzels, from Webnews (Netherlands) and Svens Toffins (consultant photographer sent by Hivos) to take photos on seeds and interview on agro-biodiversity conservation. In his recent article, Wetzels wrote, “On one end of the village of Gilgil is the headquarters of Seed Savers Network – a club of nearly ten thousand farmers who want to protect traditional seeds. They organize workshops, build seed banks and ensure that locally grown seed varieties are available in markets nearby. Daniel Wanjama is director of the organization and looks from his small office on the fabulous depth of the Rift Valley.”

“Farmers around here use crop rotation to keep their soil healthy and disease outside the door,” he says. “If they would all switch to a resistant designed GMO crop means the end for many local crops . . . The farmers have constructed a seed garden in the hills.”