Seed potato farmers in Kenya’s potato growing regions are adopting promising technology with potential to boost quality seed availability. The farmers are using rooted apical cuttings as starter material for seed production as opposed to certified seed. The cuttings technology has been introduced in Kenya by the International Potato Center (CIP) under a programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). A cutting is similar to a nursery-grown seedling, except that it is produced through vegetative means and does not originate from a seed. Cuttings are produced from tissue culture plantlets in the screen house, rather than minitubers, and after rooting, are planted in the field. Each cutting produces 7 to 10, and up to 15+ tubers which are multiplied a further season or two, then the harvest is used and/or sold as seed. This means that the seed that farmers buy is equivalent to basic or ‘certified one’ seed in seed certification systems, and will produce high yielding crops. Currently the technology targets seed multipliers, but expanding to ware farmers.
With seed being available for farmers after two to three field generations of multiplication, seed tubers produced from cuttings are high quality planting material and can be multiplied on farm for a further few seasons without risk of significant seed degeneration.
In Kenya, within one year from planting the initial trial to test rooted cuttings, two private sector enterprises have invested in cuttings and the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO Tigoni) seed potato unit has adopted the technology. Also 40 seed multipliers are trialing cuttings produced by the private sector, under project support. After receiving experimental cuttings and witnessing the productivity, they are investing in using rooted cuttings to produce seed.
The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), regulating seed certification, has endorsed cuttings and is integrating the technology into seed potato certification protocol currently being finalized. Once the modified protocol is approved by KEPHIS, cuttings will be eligible for seed merchants to use as starter material to produce certified seed.
Key to the success of this technology is building market demand for cuttings, which relies on diversifying end-uses. Currently the technology targets seed multipliers, but expanding to ware farmers who practice saving seed on farm will increase opportunities for private sector to invest in producing cuttings. The support from this opportunity would tap into projects that have already built the capacity of seed multipliers, and are in the process of licensing them as seed merchants to produce certified seed. This includes potato cooperatives that CIP supported their formation under the AVCD project. Additionally, the project already supports youth groups to develop into small businesses. Investing in rooted cuttings for seed production could be interesting for youth as little land is required, and profit margins are high.