Sweet potatoes have been grown in Western Kenya for generations and the epicenter of the production has always been in the Kabondo area of Homa Bay County which at one time accounted for close to 60% of the sweet production in Kenya. In the recent years, a program by One Acre Fund which promotes the cultivation of the Orange Fleshed sweet potato varieties has seen the production of the crop increase tremendously in other areas such as Kitale in Trans Nzoia and in the greater Kakamega County.
The production was done on a subsistence basis for many decades and the crop served as an alternative or supplement to the staple maize and beans which are the most cultivated here. The commercialization of the crop began in earnest around 1990 when farmers and trades began selling the produce to the Ahero market in Kisumu County. A lot of the produce was sold in Kisumu while others were re-routed to the greater Nairobi market. The late 90s saw the opening of the Nairobi market and many farmers from Kabondo, Kakamega and Northern Tanzania began selling the produce directly to the Nairobi market or via middlemen. With the crop fetching higher prices in the Nairobi markets-formerly Gikomba, Marikiti and now Muthurwa markets-the sweet potato cultivation has grown more popular and now more acreage has been put into cultivation.
Consumption of sweet potatoes
Once a food for the rural folk and the poor people, sweet potato is quickly finding its way into the breakfast and dinner tables of many Kenyans of all classes. There are many reasons for this. The most obvious has been the rising cost of living. Sweet potato is relatively cheap and serves as a good substitute for bread, cakes and even Irish potatoes. The most common mode of cooking is through boiling or steaming but more families and hotels are coming up with more creative recipes which truly unearth the sweetness in the sweet potatoes.
Increased technology and access to great online sweet potato recipes has brought tremendous changes in how the sweet potatoes are prepared and eaten. Today you can have sweet potato crisps, chips, sweet potato baby food, canned sweet potatoes, frozen sweet potatoes and microwave-prepared potatoes.
Healthy Living with Sweet Potatoes
Another trend driving the demand for the sweet potatoes in Kenya is that towards healthy living. Sweet potatoes are very nutrient and are regarded as some of the best superfoods. This, coupled with the fact that they are grown through 100% organic farming methods make them a top choice for many looking for healthier dietary choices.
While they are good for the taste buds, the real benefits of the sweet potatoes are in your cardiovascular system. They are a rich source of the flavonoid anti-oxidants, vitamin A, dietary fibres and minerals. The consumption of sweet potatoes leads to an overall excellent health.
Some sweet potato varieties, particularly the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are an unsurpassed source for the beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes simply have a superior capability or efficiency in raising our blood Vitamin A levels tremendously. Sweet potato consumption, particularly in children, is sufficient to satisfy up to 90% of our blood Vitamin needs. Thee beta-carotene concentration in the sweet potatoes is considered amongst the highest amongst the root vegetables.
They serve as powerful anti-oxidants and help in other functions such as maintaining and enhancing visual acuity, maintaining the integrity of the mucus membranes, and help protect from you lung and the oral cavity cancers. Due to this superfood quality, sweet potatoes are also highly recommended for patients with HIV as it has a net positive effect on the body’s immune system. We have variously covered the nutritional effects of the sweet potatoes including their suitability for the diabetics in other section of this blog.
Interesting fact about sweet potatoes
The sweet potato leaves are more nutritious and have greater health benefits than sweet potato tubers. You can add them to your diets whenever you are cooking your sweet potatoes or as part of your daily intake of the green vegetables. Check out other parts of our blog for additional information on sweet potato recipes.