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Sweet potato business thrive in Narok

The Maasai community living in Narok County is known for keeping a huge number of livestock that they depend on for their livelihood.

Though the community is slowly embracing crop farming, they mainly plant maize and beans where they totally depend on the rain water.

Other crops planted in the area are wheat, barley, cabbage and potatoes that are grown in large parcels of land in the highland areas.

Nevertheless, Brian Ash, an American who is married to a Maasai woman, is doing a different kind of farming that seems to be a game changer in the farming practice among the Maa community.

Ash is farming sweet potatoes in his five acres piece of land at Ewaso Ngiro area, in Narok North Sub County where he reaps huge benefits.

He says the crop is drought resistant and the farming practice is very cheap to start as the crop does not require a lot of water, chemicals or human activities to mature.

Ash, the owner of ‘BomaNoma’ restaurant says most of the sweet potatoes are sold in his restaurant where customers flock to buy the natural food either boiled or deep fried to make chips.

“The potatoes we produce are consumed domestically while others are sold in our hotel where customers flock to enjoy the Kienyeji food. When we have surplus, we sell one sack of sweet potatoes at Sh. 5,000,” he reveals.

The prominent farmer who started sweet potato farming two years ago says the soils in the county are good for sweet potato farming as the crop grows well in arid and semi-arid areas.

“The crop is drought resistant and does well with minimal water. It can do very well in most parts of Narok County and we encourage the farmers to embrace sweet potato farming,” said Ash.

Ash reiterates that he is willing to teach the willing community members how to grow sweet potatoes so that they can diversify from maize and beans farming.

“I cannot force someone to embrace this kind of farming. However, for all those willing to grow sweet potatoes, they can visit my farm for some lessons as they pick vines to plant in their gardens,” he said.

The crop is harvested thrice per year and regenerates for over five years before they can be replanted again.

When asked how many workers he has employed, Ash says he has employed eight casual labourers who work in his farm and restaurant.

“All my employees are from the local community because I am passionate in imparting some knowledge to them. For those willing, I give some vines so that they can plant in their homesteads,” he said.

The sweet potato is intercropped with peas that are rich in nitrogen hence the two crops augment each other in the farm.

His Maasai wife, Selina Nkoina asks her Maa community not to wait for rains to do crop farming but embrace the organic form of farming which is cheap to start and give the family a balanced diet.

The reason why we started this, she says, is to improve the source of food and act as a demonstration to the community.

“I come from the Maasai community and I understand the challenges the community faces because of prolonged dry seasons. The children fail to concentrate in class because of poor diet and sometimes end up dropping out of school,” she observes.

“Small kitchen gardens will help families get food and children will not go to school hungry. They can sell the surplus and get money for buying other things,” she adds.

Nkoina from Mosiro area in Narok East sub county notes that because of the climate change, they practice permaculture type of farming, where they plant different kinds of crops that depend on one another.

Nkoina reiterates that they are willing to work with the willing members of the society so as to improve farming in the area.

Esther Shinalo, a local tourist, who frequents ‘BomaNoma’ restaurant, says she loves the place because of the fresh sweet potatoes that are well prepared.

She adds that since her first experience in the restaurant a month ago, she has been frequenting the area to enjoy the fresh food.

Mishek Ole Nkoitoi encouraged the Maasai community to visit the farm to learn farming activities as sweet potato farming is not common in the county.

“What amazes me is that there are plenty of sweet potatoes throughout the year. There is no single day you will visit the farm and fail to get sweet potatoes even in prolonged dry seasons,” he said.

By Ann Salaton

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