Nakuru farmers suffer as politicians keep making promises

Workers offload watermelons sourced from Oloitoktok in Elburgon town, Nakuru County. Most of the produce is brought in by brokers. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

From the lush green fields of potatoes in Mau Narok in Njoro to the maize plantations in Dundori in Bahati sub-county and the tomato farms in Subukia, Nakuru is a revered food basket.

With at least 70 per cent of the total land acreage agriculturally productive, the county is among leading producers of milk, maize, beans, potatoes, vegetables and flowers in Kenya.

In fact, Naivasha is known as Kenya's floriculture heartland and home to leading flower firms, including Oserian on the shores of Lake Naivasha, established in the late 1960s by the Zwager family, and the once vibrant Karuturi, which used to export at least a million stems a day in its heyday.

Nakuru also has a huge capacity for cattle, goat, sheep production.

However, years of neglecting farmers since the advent of devolution, coupled with populist solutions by politicians every campaign period, has left them suffering.

And ahead of the August 9 General Election, politicians continue giving promise after promise.

For instance, the top contenders for the coveted governor’s seat, Lee Kinyanjui (incumbent) and Senator Susan Kihika have ‘big’ plans to turn around the region’s agriculture.

“Nakuru County's economy is largely dependent on agriculture, especially in the agriculturally rich areas of the region and my administration will prioritise the sector to ensure farmers get access to subsidised inputs and certified seeds. I will also focus on the establishment of value addition factories,” said Senator Kihika in a recent debate involving governor candidates.

“Value addition factories will create employment opportunities and reduce joblessness among our youth.”

Governor Kinyanjui also sees revamping the agricultural sector as one way of putting more money in farmers’ pockets and tackling unemployment, especially among young people.

“I have done much to boost agriculture in the past five years and my intention is to further revamp the sector during my second term,” he said on the campaign trail.

“We intend to establish more storage facilities and partner with donors to establish value addition factories in Nakuru.”

For Molo MP Kuria Kimani, Nakuru needs to “start thinking agro based manufacturing”. “We should renew our efforts towards value addition. To address food security and eradicate poverty, processing plants are key,” he said in a previous interview.

But to farmers, the promises remain that – just promises.

Records from the Agriculture department in the past 10 years since the advent of devolution show that over Sh3 billion worth of potatoes go to waste in Nakuru every year due to a shortage of storage facilities.

Farmers in the agriculturally rich areas of Molo, Njoro, Kuresoi South, Bahati and Subukia incur heavy post-harvest losses.

In Njoro, Molo and Kuresoi South, for instance, where potato farming is the mainstay of residents, farmers lack enough storage facilities, losing much of their produce before they reach the market.

“In Njoro and Molo, we do not have enough storage facilities. Because of this, most of our potatoes rot before we can access the market. The few that are available have limited space for farmers in the regions,” Mrs Anne Nduta, a potato farmer in Mau Narok, told the Nation.

Despite the agricultural potential of Nakuru, the devolved unit has not had any county-funded value addition factory or processing firm since the advent of devolution in 2013.

“Nakuru lacks value addition factories. We could have added value to the products we produce in large quantities like potatoes, carrots among others to put more money in our pocket but we have been left on our own. The first two county governments have done little to provide farmers with cold rooms and other storage facilities,” explained Mr James Maina, a farmer in Kihingo, Njoro.

Molo, Njoro, Kuresoi South and Bahati produce potatoes and carrots sold to markets in several parts of Kenya and other East African countries.

But farmers in the region have been grappling with poor yields as a result of planting uncertified seeds, exploitation by middlemen and post-harvest losses caused by lack of cold rooms and other storage facilities before their products hit the market.

The harvest is usually abundant most of the seasons due to a good climate and fertile soils.

Nakuru is among the largest potato producers in the country, after Nyandarua, producing at least 2,500,000 tonnes annually, according to the National Potato Council.

But potato farmers continue to suffer at the hands of potato cartels and poor prices brought by the flouting of potato packaging rules.

The middlemen often dictate prices.

In Mau Narok, Mwisho wa Lami, Kihingo and other areas, potato cartels have a field day.

They have turned 'millionaire' potato farmers into paupers, leaving them only with loose change.

Farmers told the Nation that brokers run roughshod over farmers and mint millions with dumbfounding ease.

"Without these people, you cannot access the market. They have tentacles spreading as far away as Nairobi and other key towns. They get a percentage of potato sales, we are the ones left suffering,” said Mr Robert Rotich, a farmer in Mau Narok, Njoro.

Although the county government has been promising to establish a potato processing factory in the regions, that promise is yet to be fulfilled.

Nakuru has been allocating the Agriculture department not less than Sh1 billion annually since 2013.

It now remains to be seen if anything will change after the August 9 polls.