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Sweet potato; postharvest; Homabay; Bungoma; farmers; traders; processors
Postharvest losses in sweet potato can occur due to poor handling practices and inadequate knowledge on maintaining the quality and safety of the roots by handlers across the value chain. This study involved an assessment of postharvest handling practices of sweet potato in Bungoma and Homabay Counties, Kenya. A survey was carried out between November 2015 and February 2016, structured questionnaires were administered to a total of 165 respondents comprising 96 farmers, 64 traders, and 5 processors drawn from two constituencies of each of the Counties. Four key informants were also interviewed. Results showed that 68%, 87%, and 40% of sweet potato farmers, traders, and processors respectively, were women. Iron bars and wooden sticks were used in piecemeal harvesting while hoes (jembes) and ox-plows were used in wholesale harvesting of roots. Informal marketing systems that quantified roots using bags, buckets, and heaps were prevalent. Motorcycles, donkeys, bicycles, public service vehicles, foot, and carts were used by 26%, 21%, 11%, 8%, 7%, and 6% respectively to transport roots to the markets. Storage was rarely practiced by 43% of farmers and 45% of traders. Root curing was not common. Processed products included flour, puree, and dried chips. High perishability and unreliable supply of roots were major challenges indicated. The establishment of storage facilities, promotion of processing opportunities as well as formulation and enactment of a comprehensive sweet potato policy could move this industry to a commercial level. There is a need for collective action by policymakers and other stakeholders to address the challenges noted to ensure the reduction of postharvest losses for food security and better incomes.