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Capacity-building for seed potato selection in Kenya

The following example of benefit sharing from Kenya demonstrates how information sharing and education of farmers can yield positive results. By spreading the knowledge of how to select the best seed potatoes through farmer group training, potato yields in this area of Kenya have increased substantially, thereby rewarding farmers' efforts.

The potato is an important food and cash crop for smallholder farmers in the highlands of Kenya. For their planting material, small-scale potato farmers rely on farm-saved seed potatoes as well as seeds purchased from neighbours. The problem with this continuous use of farm-saved potatoes as planting material is the build-up of diseases. Viruses and bacterial wilt are transmitted through the tubers. Ideally farmers should renew their seed stock periodically with disease-free seed potatoes from a reliable source. However, despite decades of efforts by government organizations and development projects, affordable high-quality seed potatoes remain largely unavailable to smallholder farmers in Sub-Sahara Africa. Farm-saved seed potatoes actually account for 96% of all seed potatoes planted in Kenya, and potato farmers in the country renew their planting material only every sixth season on average. These facts make it clear that a strategy to improve the quality of seed potatoes planted by farmers should focus on improving the process of farm saving.

The International Potato Centre (CIP), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the public extension service of the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture have been involved in such efforts for some time. A few years ago, a technique known as positive selection was pilot-tested by smallholder potato farmers as a way to improve the quality of their seed potatoes. The principle of positive selection is to mark healthy-looking mother plants for seed collection. This technique in itself was not new; it had been used by specialized seed potato multipliers in the production of certified seed potatoes. What was new was to teach this simple technology to smallholder farmers so that they could maintain or even improve the quality of their farm-saved seed.

Harvesting selected plants one by one. Photo: Peter GildemacherIn 2004 and 2005, positive selection was successfully pilot-tested in Kenya among smallholder potato growers in the Narok district. Over the next two years CIP, in collaboration with KARI and the Ministry of Agriculture, trained over 100 extension workers and farmer-trainers on all aspects of positive selection. This included broadening their background knowledge on the management of potato pests and diseases. After this training, the extension workers and farmer-trainers worked with more than 70 farmer groups, altogether involving some 1200 farmers. A participatory research approach was used, where a demonstration experiment formed the core of the training curriculum. Everything took place in the potato field, and the mode of teaching was learning by doing. The farmer groups would meet regularly for a total of eight training sessions. First the farmers were shown how to distinguish between sick and healthy-looking plants in the potato field. Next, a comparative study took place where the potato field was divided into two parts: one where positive selection was used and one where the farmers used their traditional methods. Tubers from the two different selection methods were planted separately the next season, and the group analysed the results.

This project proved to be a success, with potato yields increasing on average by 28%. A survey done two years after the project was initiated showed that over one quarter of the farmers trained had adopted the positive selection method on their holdings, and these farmers claimed to have doubled their yields. The training programme had improved the awareness of farmers regarding the degeneration of seed potatoes resulting from diseases, and for small-scale farmers positive selection emerged as a viable strategy. For these farmers, positive selection with its extra five days of labour per hectare is usually preferable to investing in commercial seed potatos, either because they cannot afford the costly improved seeds, or because such seed potatoes are not available. Positive selection training of smallholder potato producers can be seen as an important strategy for improving potato yields, in addition to building a cost-effective specialized multiplication system for seed potatoes. An important factor contributing to the success was the involvement of the public extension service of the Ministry of Agriculture. They embraced the training method and the technology, and are currently training groups of potato farmers in several districts of Kenya. The simplicity and low cost of the technology, the good partnership between research and public extension, as well as the training method that convinced the potato farmers that this technology could actually improve their production, were among the other factors crucial to the success.

This example demonstrates how capacity-building and the teaching of rather simple techniques, such as positive selection, can be a vehicle for benefit sharing by substantially improving yields, and thereby the livelihoods of the farmers in question. In this case, capacity-building was promoted and organized by state agencies in collaboration with national and international research institutes, but also other actors can play a part. The close cooperation with CIP was one of the elements contributing to this success story. Those who wish to apply the same method and copy the success will be able to draw on the useful material that was published after participants provided their comments and the training programme was evaluated and improved.

(This text is based on information from an article by Peter Gildemacher, Paul Demo, Peter Kinyae, Moses Nyongesa and Pauline Mundia in LEISA, 2007: 10-11. It has also benefited from suggestions and additional information provided by Peter Gildemacher via e-mail correspondence) (The training material mentioned is currently only available in English, but French and Portuguese versions will be published during 2008, the material can be found at: )

Pages in this sub-section:
   Creating incentive structures from the ground in the Philippines
   Community seed fairs in Zimbabwe
   Community gene banking and on-farm conservation in India
   Dynamic Conservation and Participatory Plant Breeding in France
   Participatory plant breeding adding value in Nepal
   Capacity-building for seed potato selection in Kenya
   The Peruvian Potato Park
   Rewarding best practices in Norway
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 In this section:
  What is a 'success story' of FR?
  Success stories from the realization of the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed
  Success stories on traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity
  Success stories on benefit-sharing measures
  Success stories on participation in decision making
  Common features

Photo: Pratap Shrestha, Nepal