Government sources for Irish potato farm machinery to salvage spiraling production
The Ministry of Agriculture is sourcing for machinery to improve the Irish potato sub sector in the country, currently on a downward spiral.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett said the government had secured a loan from India to acquire assorted and modern machinery for the sub sector.
The move aims at improving annual Irish potato yields from the current average of 2 million metric tons to 8 million metric tons.
The sub sector has in the recent past registered reduced yields which the ministry has attributed to widespread usage of uncertified seeds, lack of storage facilities and massive exploitation of growers by middlemen.
At a stakeholder’s forum for potato growers convened in Molo, Secretary in Charge of Engineering at the ministry Jasper Nyakaya, who represented the CS, said the machinery will be handed over to county governments who in turn will be expected to implement and supervise mechanization of the potato sub sector.
Nakuru County Governor Lee Kinyanjui said his government will seek the best practice and dissemination of current information to potato farmers.
This he said will range from seed propagation, crop management, harvesting, storage, marketing and value addition.
Said the governor; “We shall work with industry stakeholders to create storage services for potato farmers in Mau Narok, Molo, and Kuresoi regions. This will cushion farmers from the erratic price fluctuations and thereby improve their profitability and livelihoods across the region”.
Noting that potatoes was the main cash crop in the county, the governor said his administration would initiate partnerships with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), and Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), among others, in addressing challenges of low yields.
The CS said the use of certified seeds, and approved fertilizers, increased storage facilities and organized marketing channels in high potential potato growing counties will step up food sufficiency for the country’s population.
He noted that though the country had 2.5 million potato farmers, the yields were not impressive.
Bett said the program aims at realizing an average of 150 bags an acre for small holder farmers in highly productive areas.
The CS said the sh. 30 billion Irish potato value chain had the potential to double if national extension services and marketing frameworks were improved.
‘County governments with high potential for Irish potato farming need to work with their respective agricultural research centres and the national potato council. We need to come up with common, affordable certified seeds for our potato farmers and strategic marketing centres’, he said.
He said though the commodity is the country’s second largest food crop, 2.5 million farmers are using uncertified seeds.
The KEPHIS director Dr. Esther Kimani lamented that Irish potato farmers were not seeking extension services resulting in low yields, poor pest and disease control.
She advised potato farmers to practice crop rotation in mitigating against pest invasion and disease.
In 2016, the Irish potato farmers in Nakuru earned sh. 5.5 billion compared to maize which raked in sh.2 billion.
County Chief Executive for Agriculture Dr. Stanley Chepkwony said this could increase to sh. 17 billion if the county’s 2000 small holder Irish potato farmers used certified seeds and approved fertilizers.
Dr. Chepkwony said farmers had access to 52 certified potato seed varieties that can be purchased from ADC outlets.
By Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto