It’s news that’s bound to put a smile on farmers’ faces and, eventually, money in their pockets. Starting June, the government will ban the importation of Irish potatoes in a bid to protect the local market.
A task force to study and address issues bedevilling the sub-sector will also be formed, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya told the Nation in an exclusive interview, adding, his ministry will partner with potato-growing counties to improve quality and quantity to global standards.
Mr Munya said his ministry is discussing with multinational food companies on how to support local farmers.
“They will tell us what farmers and the government need to do, the [potato] varieties they need, and how they want them grown and transported. We have agreed with county administrators, including Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia whose county is the biggest potato producer, on how the task force will be formed and key issues to be addressed,” said the CS.
The government, he said, has over the past three years invested heavily in the Irish potato sub-sector, including provision of certified seeds through the National Youth Service Tumaini Farm as well as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation.
The European Union together with the Nyandarua County Government had pumped Sh116 million to produce certified seeds at Ol Joro Orok Agricultural Training College, Mr Kimemia disclosed, adding, he expected the task force to address marketing and full implementation of the 50kg packaging rule.
The team, he said, should also develop a sustainable method of delivering subsidised farm inputs, same to what has been done for the tea sub-sector.
“Our farmers are falling victim to unscrupulous brokers who opt to buy from other counties where implementation of the 50kg bag rule is lax. The task force should also come up with a pricing model, stipulating the minimum price for a 50kg bag,” Mr Kimemia said.
Farmers have often lamented about uncontrolled prices of the produce during harvesting, with brokers taking advantage of the glut to dictate prices.
“Most farmers are harvesting between now and mid-February in preparation for the long rains season. It means prices will go down due to oversupply. Brokers are offering Sh800 for a 100kg bag,” Ms Edith Wambui, a farmer from Njabini in Kinangop Constituency, told the Nation.
Going by that price, farmers are selling a kilo of the produce at Sh8, which can produce three packs of crisps each selling at Sh100 or between three and five plates of chips at Sh80 to Sh150 a serving.
The current woes bedevilling the sub-sector have been blamed on poor marketing strategies by counties and the national government as well as reluctance by farmers to embrace new technologies and potato varieties. The crop is listed as the second most-important food crop in the country by the International Potato Centre.
Unlike in other sectors where small-scale growers have formed common interest groups and cooperative societies—such as in coffee, tea, and dairy—to champion their interests, potato farmers lack such initiatives, which brokers exploit to dictate market prices.
“[Brokers] are afraid of organised farmers’ groups because they fear that, if left to thrive, they will drive them out of the market,” said National Potato Council of Kenya Chief Executive Officer Wachira Kaguongo.
Mr Kimemia said organising potato growers into groups requires the goodwill of the farmers themselves as well as local and international players.
He termed a recent statement by international food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken regarding a shortage of potatoes for its local outlets as unfortunate.
“It allows us to reflect on the plight of farmers as a nation. [KFC] said it was unable to satisfy the local demand for chips due to a delay in the shipment of potatoes [even as] potato farmers across the country, more so in Nyandarua, are grappling with challenges of finding a market for their produce.”
Equity Bank in conjunction with the county government has launched an initiative to boost potato marketing—including training young people on entrepreneurship, value addition and new farming technologies—targeting 817 beneficiaries, who will be given loans to venture into the trade Equity Bank Ol Kalou Branch Manager Pius Kaniaru said.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Executive James Karitu revealed that another initiative dubbed “Increasing Market Knowledge and Access” is being implemented to provide market information to farmers.
Dr Karitu said 15,000 farmers have been trained and 76,130 kilogrammes of certified seeds distributed in 25 wards for multiplication and bulking. But the executive noted farmers are slow in adopting new technologies and marketing models.