‘And the winner is – KEPHIS Kenya!’ announced Rosemary Kihiu, to an audience of jubilant participants of the 10th consultation of the Systems Community of Practice meeting on the evening of 14th November 2018 at a restaurant in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. The event was a group dinner and award giving ceremony of the winners of a marketing strategy competition launched at a similar meeting a year before. Dr Srini Rajendran, agricultural economist for the International Potato Centre (CIP) had prepared a set of guidelines for the marketing competition and shared these with National Research Institutes (NARIs) who are partners in the SASHA II project.
Seven NARIs had submitted their filled-out indicator tables and the winner was decided based on the indicator workbook. The workbook had three main sheets: 1) the customer database where the NARIs would fill in their customer details including the revenue received from the sales 2) a customer follow-up sheet that allowed the NARI fill in feedback from buyers and 3) the indicator sheet that captured financial and technical performance as well as details of the actual marketing strategy such as specific marketing activities carried out. Scoring from participants at the meeting as well as CIP staff; Margaret McEwan, Srini Rajendran and Rosemary Kihiu, arrived at the top three winning marketing strategies.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) undertakes two critical functions in the sweetpotato seed system: as the regional centre of excellence for germplasm management and exchange, in collaboration with CIP, it supports clean-up and virus indexing of breeder materials for national sweetpotato breeding and seed programmes across sub-Saharan Africa. Secondly, it multiplies pathogen tested pre-basic seed for sale within Kenya.
Seed is one of the most important farm inputs. A farmer’s harvest depends a lot on the quality of seed planted. To provide farmers with healthy, clean planting material, a series of laboratory and field processes are required.
Recently, Florence Munguti, the Officer in Charge at the KEPHIS station in Muguga Kiambu shared the journey that has seen the institution establish a recognised successful sweetpotato pre-basic seed production business that has enough funds in its Revolving Fund (RF) account to sustainably produce quality seed for the foreseeable future.
‘There are two things that were game changers for our business; a real time costing exercise that resulted in a reduction in our selling price and a very aggressive marketing campaign that included a lot of country roadshows’ Florence began. ‘There were also quite a number of NGOs that bought sweetpotato seed from us and distributed to key farmers for multiplication especially in areas that had nutrition projects’ she continued.
In the past 5 years, Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties have increased in popularity due to their β-carotene (pro-Vitamin A) content and good performance in terms of yield and early maturity. With this in mind, Florence and her team crafted a marketing strategy with the goal of reaching a wide customer base that included not only multipliers who purchased in bulk, but also small farmers buying in small quantities. The plan included: demonstration plots, stakeholder meetings emphasizing the need for quality seed, field trips and trade fairs as well as using technology such as the KEPHIS website and WhatsApp groups.
‘WhatsApp groups have been very important in linking farmers with decentralized vine multipliers (DVMs), root producers and processors. Our groups are active and people are quick to respond!’ she elaborated.
Sweetpotato vine sales have seen a gradual increase. The greatest jump was witnessed between 2015 and 2016 when the sales increased 327% from 9,000 29,420 cuttings. The best sales were in 2017 where 114,425 cuttings were sold generating a revenue to Ksh 1,774,410 (USD 17,568). The institution targets to increase sale of vines by 15% annually so as to increase availability and dissemination of quality vines to all even non-traditional sweet potato growing areas.
‘We are now not just scientists, accountants and project officers; we are also very good marketers of sweetpotato seed’ Florence concluded
Since 2014, the International Potato Center (CIP) has been working in collaboration with the national sweetpotato programmes to strengthen their technical, institutional and financial capacities for pre-basic and basic sweetpotato seed production.