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On my potato farm, machines run the show

By Phares Mutembei | Published Sat, March 3rd 2018 at 00:00, Updated March 2nd 2018 at 12:29 GMT +3
Renowned Potato farmer Jason Marangu at his farm in Buuri constituency, Meru county. [Peter Muthomi, Standard]

In summary

  • The idea to mechanise the farm came to him when he realised he was spending too much money on labour costs

Technology has been touted as the next game changer in farming and one farmer is already tapping into its rich potential.

From one corner to another, an outstanding feature at Jason Marangu’s farm is how he has invested in machinery on his ten-acre space in Kibirichia, Meru County.

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“Being a veteran farmer, I know very well the importance of mechanisation of farm operations. For instance, with my ploughing machine I harvest three times faster than when a number of harmhands are doing it,” Marangu, 72, tells Smart Harvest at the farm.

Marangu has invested heavily in machines for ploughing, crop harvesting and water management which he says have made work efficient, faster and easier.

The idea to mechanise the farm came to him when he realised he was spending too much money on labour costs.

“During ploughing and harvesting, there is normally a lot of work and it calls for hiring more farm hands which is an extra cost. But I realised when I have machines like a tractor, the workload is reduced and the operating cost go down.”

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So passionate is he about mechanisation that few years back, he assembled his own ploughing machine.

Though expensive at the initial buying, he says machines are worth every coin.

“Yes, it can cost you an arm and a leg to buy something like a combined harvester but once you have it on the farm, you see the change in terms of cost cutting,” he says.

Cost cutting measures

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Most farm technology is perceived to be complicated and expensive to maintain but for him, everything is manageable.

“These machines are so easy to use somebody with basic knowledge can operate them. For maintenance, something like a tractor needs oiling and greasing, which I can undertake on my own,” he says.

When need be, like when they break down, he calls an expert to fix it.

Buuri being one of the hottest areas in Meru, he has invested heavily in water tanks and a ‘mini dam’ to store rain water. He has also installed a solar-powered pump to supply water to his crop.

To maximise on yields, apart from heavy investment in technology, he also employs best practice on his potato farm.

“Potato tubers need to be watered regularly but because of unpredictable rain patterns I had to invest in water storage facilities and sprinklers,” he says.

He says with enough water at his disposal, he is able to get 200 bags (each weighing 50kg) in one harvest. He sells a bag at Sh1,000.

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Of his 10-acres, he utilises between two acres for potatoes to allow him practise crop rotation.

Mr Marangu says rotating potatoes with other crops such as maize, grass and vegetables on his parcels, prevent pathogens from spreading in the soil.

Though he is now established, it’s remarkable how he started small.

Steady supply of manure

Before his breakthrough, he worked as casual for 14 years at an established farm.

Back then, he was earned Sh28 a day.

“I worked for 14 years, saving most of the coins. With the savings I bought my first two acres at Kibirichia, at Sh3,000 per acre in 1966. But I now have more than 20 acres, bought at different times over the years,” Marangu says, adding he has left about five acres to his son to do farming.

Having never been to school, Marangu is lucky he got critical skills on best farming practice from established organisations like Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate, Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation and Bayer (a German NGO that trains farmers).

Thanks to their many trainings, he has learned how to prepare his land, when to plant, how to space his crop and produce best seedlings.

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“The officers from these organisations usually take soil samples for analysis in their laboratories to determine the nutrients in the soil and what needs to be done to get healthy crops,” he says.

He has also kept dairy cows at his farm to have a steady supply of manure.

“You cannot have a potato farm without a dairy one because cost of manure is crazy. I have enough manure from my cows which I allow to decompose for three months before applying on the farm,” Marangu says.

Quality seeds

“Quality seed is key for a farmer to have a bumper harvest. But I also have to camp in my farm to ensure leaf minors, potato tuber moth, late blight, aphids, wireworms, whiteflies, nematodes and others do not affect the plants,” Marangu says.

For a stronger bargaining power, Marangu and 31 other farmers have formed Mwanzo Agribusiness self-help group.

He discovered long time ago that selling and marketing his produce as an individual is fraught with challenges.

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