In Kenya – as in other African countries, both formal and informal seed systems are important in delivering seeds to SHFs. Seed systems are governed by policy frameworks that tend to disadvantage vegetatively propagated seeds. Both formal and informal seed systems face major challenges related to timely delivery, variety diversification and sufficient volumes; some of the best efforts have failed to translate to improved accessibility of seeds by the farmers.
Against this background, in early 2015 Africa Harvest started implementing a regional project with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The project – Integrated Farming Systems for Sustainable Livelihoods for Small Holder Farmers in East Africa (INFAS) – has the development of seed systems as one its main objectives. This is in a bid to improve the accessibility of clean, high yielding and market-preferred varieties of banana, cassava, beans and sweet potato by SHFs in select sites that are humid and semi-humid areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. Such crops are a major source of food and nutrition for these rural households.
The beta carotene-enhanced OFSP is one of the crop technologies being promoted in Kenya under this project. It has the potential to combat Vitamin A deficiency in pregnant mothers and children under five. When converted to Vitamin A in the body, beta carotene helps in providing healthy skin and mucus membranes, boosts the immune system and improves sight.
In many parts of rural Kenya, many small scale farmers consider sweet potato as a secondary food crop and will only plant it when maize fails. This is despite the fact that its production requires minimal inputs, it is tolerant to pests and disease and provides sufficient food for households during the dry season.
Consumption per capita in Kenya stands at 24 kilograms (kgs) per year. The Kisii region of Western Kenya has high levels of Vitamin A deficiency in preschool children; of these, 11.2% are severe cases while 40.2% are marginal cases. Researchers have identified biofortification of
common food crops as one of the most effective ways of dealing with widespread malnutrition at the grassroot level in communities of the developing world. However, most of what is grown in Kenya are the traditional varieties that are not enhanced with beta carotene and production is low, at 10 tons/hectare.
The project focus was therefore to promote varieties that have been developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the International Potato Centre (CIP); these have improved agronomic and nutritional attributes. With good management, some of these varieties can produce up to 40 tons/ha.