From failure to success: The story of Narok potato farmers

Members of Lanyuak Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Narok County pose for a photo with one of their tractors. 

Photo credit: Pool

Potato farming has been a livelihood for residents of Narok North Sub-County for decades.

The farmers, however, have had to endure exploitation by brokers and middlemen. The farmers grappled with dismal harvests year after year, barely getting 50 bags per acre, a far cry from the bounty their lands promised.

Under good agricultural practices, an acre can produce up to 200 bags of potatoes. Lack of proper storage facilities has also been a challenge for farmers in region.

Disheartened and disillusioned, they have watched helplessly as their produce rots for lack of modern storage facilities coupled with unfair market prices. But even in this despair, hope emerged in the form of Lanyuak Farmers Cooperative Society.

Formed in 2013 by farmers in Enabelbel area of Olorropi Ward, Lanyuak is now more than a cooperative – a testament to the power of unity and collective action.

Fuelled by a burning desire to reclaim control of their destiny, these farmers came together and established a formidable voice in the market, one that would amplify their bargaining power and pave the way for sustainable profits.

Led by their determined chairperson, Joseph Ngugi, Lanyuak embarked on a mission to transform the fortunes of Narok North’s potato farming community.

“We had no storage facilities for the potatoes. The produce also went bad due to a lack of markets. Many farmers left at this point due to disappointment,” Mr Ngugi says.

“We had a vision, and as the carrier of that vision, I had to stay focused”. Armed with a vision of cooperation and shared prosperity, Mr Ngugi and his fellow farmers refused to succumb to despair, even as some in the society fled.

The turning point came in 2019 when the NARIGP extended a lifeline to the struggling cooperative society. Recognising Lanyuak’s potential to catalyse change, NARIGP injected a much-needed funds, a staggering Sh1 million, to fuel a membership campaign and bolster training. According to the co-op chairman, the response was nothing short of extraordinary miracle.

From a mere 17 members, Lanyuak swelled its ranks to 1,560, drawn from 56 common interest groups in eight wards.

With new-found strength in numbers, the cooperative expanded its operations to four sub-counties, through the amendment of its by-laws, heralding a new era of growth and prosperity.

The four sub-counties are Narok North, Narok South, Narok West and Trans Mara East. Emboldened by NARIGP’s support, Lanyuak Cooperative Society wasted no time harnessing the full potential of its resources.

Armed with certified seeds and state-of-the-art equipment, co-op members embarked on an ambitious planting spree, cultivating vast tracts of land. It did not take long to realise results of their hard work.

The potato yields increased from 70 bags an acre to an impressive 160. This meant the cooperative society members were inching closer to the coveted 200-bag mark.

However, the true measure of success did not just lie in increased harvests but in the tangible improvements to the Lanyuak Cooperative Society members’ incomes.

With upgrades in packaging and access to fair market prices, farmers like Julius Kina found themselves reaping the rewards of their labour – a surplus and more money that could be channelled towards education, sustenance and future investments.

Lanyuak Co-op Society has since signed an agreement with Simplifine Foods Company, which supplies the Markies variety of potatoes to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), a multinational fast food outlet.

That has kept brokers away from the supply chain. Since May 2023, Lanyuak Co-op Society has been supplying Simplifine with 395 tonnes of potatoes a year. The amount is expected to increase as more farmers are brought on board.

The pricing is favourable. The co-op sells its potatoes at Sh32.5 per kilo against a long-term price of Sh14. Sustained by the success, Lanyuak is charting new frontiers in contract farming and financial empowerment.

With agro-vets strategically positioned to meet members’ needs and discussions underway with leading financial institutions, the cooperative is poised to unlock even greater opportunities for members.

The rise of Narok County’s potato farmers is a testament to the transformative power of unity, resilience and strategic partnerships.

From the brink of desperation to success, Lanyuak Farmers Cooperative Society stands as a beacon of hope – a narrative of what can be achieved when farmers join hands and dare to dream big.

Mr Ngugi boldly declares:  “We have eyes on the prize”, a future where prosperity knows no bounds, and the fields of Narok County yield riches beyond measure.”