Improving yields through local crop breeding
In Kenya’s Central Rift Valley, sweet potato farmers have struggled to produce healthy, high yielding crops, with much of their harvest lost to plant viruses or damaged by weevils. In response, sweet potato breeders from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute have worked with farmers in the area to select and develop better varieties of sweet potato, which are tolerant of viruses, high yielding and contain high levels of nutrients and vitamin A. Breeder Laura Karanja explains the process, and how through planting the new varieties and attention to farming practices such as weed control, farmers can expect to double their yields. She also points out the importance of breeding crops specific to local areas, in order to match local conditions such as rainfall patterns, soil moisture and altitude.
By 2050, the global population is predicted to reach 9 billion. How to feed that many people is the subject of meetings and conferences around the world. African countries are likely to play a very important role, as they have the biggest potential to increase their yields and also contain 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated farmland. If African farmers could double their crop yields, the continent would have enough food to feed itself and have a significant amount to export to other countries.
Doubling crop yields may sound like an impossible task, but there are plenty of strategies to help farmers achieve it. One strategy is improved crop breeding. Farmers need varieties that are specifically developed to suit the areas in which they live and cope with challenges such as diseases and pests. To develop these varieties, crop breeders are increasingly working in partnership with farmers, in order to understand local conditions and needs. Laura Karanja, for example, is a crop breeder who has been developing new varieties of sweet potato suitable for Kenya’s Central Rift Valley. She spoke recently to Geoffrey Onditi, and began by explaining some of the problems facing sweet potato growers in the area.
And Dr Karanja’s sweet potato breeding work has been supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
Making the most of it:
Orange fleshed sweet potato has been developed in recent years to boost vitamin A consumption, but what other locally-available foods are rich in vitamin A? Ask a nutrition adviser to suggest the best sources of this important vitamin for people in your area.
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