Potatoes will now be packaged in 50-kilogram bags from the farm, effectively enabling farmers to earn a better value of the product and an opportunity to sell it through cooperatives.
Previously, brokers opted for exploitative packaging, weighing more than 120 kilos per bag that were bought at a general price without considering its weight.
The new shift also sets the stage for counties to enforce the sale of other farm produce in measured portions to avoid exploitation of farmers and also enable farmers to predict the price of what they grow, expected to improve agribusiness planning. Already, agriculture produces buyer and vendor to urban retailers Twiga Foods buys all its produces in kilos.
The new packaging was launched on Thursday in Nyandarua County, Kenya’s top potato grower, following the gazettement of The Crops (Irish Potato) Regulations 2019.
Now, the 15 potato growing counties have hit the ground running to effect immediate implementation. Farmers welcomed the move.
“These regulations are the foundation stone on which the future of the potato industry will be built. The farmers want money in their pockets,” said Dr. Julius Njogu, a farmer.
Njogu spoke on behalf of thousands of Nyandarua potato farmers during the launch. For the farmers to achieve full benefits, he said, they are requesting the county government of Nyandarua to fast track establishment of collection centres, the cold storage leading, and a processing plant.
The farmers also want to become shareholders once the processing plant is built to maximize their profit and get involved in the monitoring of the facility’s management. He said it would be unfair for investors from elsewhere to take away all the profits.
Further the farmers, he said, want the government to fast track the commodity fund which will be channelled through the cooperatives. This will ensure farmers, who will be marketing their products through the cooperatives are paid on the spot once they deliver their produce.
John’s sentiments were echoed by Murega Njuguna, the Nyandarua Cooperative Movement chairman. Murega said Nyandarua farmers have already owned the law which they have demanded for ages and now their focus is putting the potato in the map of Kenya. He said as the farmers benefit, even the county revenue will increase.
“We shall get the opportunity to sell our potatoes through the cooperatives just as we do with milk. Farmers own the crop, not the brokers. It is now up to the county commissioner and county police commander to deal with brokers and others who violate this law as farmers are okay,” he said.
Nyandarua is number one potato producer in the country with an average of 500,000 tons of potatoes worth about Sh10 billion, on about 36,500 acres put under potato cultivation. Governor Francis Kimemia said despite the billions in earnings generated, over 100,000 families involved in the production do not adequately benefit from this wealth.
Kimemia said the regulations form the part of Nyandarua county value chain improvement strategy. He said brighter days for the farmers’ beckon as a market distorted by actors who never toil for their stock and systems that lacked legal regime or framework to protect them are brought to an end.
“What more gratification can I find than being a witness to this launch of the Crops (Irish Potatoes) Regulations 2019. What more can the potato farmers ask for than this statutory protection against systemic exploitation which has left them poorer one season after another; and, what better way to fulfil my pledge of ending this pain and unscrupulous market distortion than being here to launch these Regulations?” he said.
The county boss highlighted six key enforcement interventions aimed at ensuring compliance and benefit to Nyandarua farmers, among them enhanced awareness creation and sensitization of all stakeholders on the regulation, especially on handling, packaging, and transportation.
Relevant finance laws will be realigned with these regulations to anchor these regulatory changes and enforcement officers will be trained and deployed at all levels from harvesting, collection, and marketing.
The county will also work with stakeholders to ensure quick and effective prosecution of offenders who wish to rig the market against the farmers, as well as e-registration of farmers and other actors in the value chain and establishment and improvement of collection centers across the county.
Kimemia said as part of Economic Revival Strategy contained in his campaign manifesto and the county has established supporting infrastructure and facilities to help maximize output, reduce post-harvest losses and value addition.
The programs which are contained in the Potato Production and Marketing Strategy 2018-2022 includes the establishment of clean seed production units in Ol Joro Orok and Njabini ATCs through tissue culture technology and collaboration with the national government in NYS Tumaini Centre seed multiplication unit to provide farmers with clean and satisfied seeds.
Establishment of potatoes’ cold storage in Ol Kalou and other five sub-counties and promotion of agricultural mechanization including decentralization of the agriculture mechanization services, which includes procurement of hand-held mechanized tools constitute some key strategies.
Other strategies, Kimemia said, includes diversification of potato varieties to correspond with regional soils and climatic conditions. Some of the main varieties include Markies, Jelly, Rudolf, Unica, Panamella and Sagitta.
There will be revamping of extension services and extending partnerships international development bodies including training farmers on market creation identification and establishing linkages, and provision of subsidized farm inputs, soil testing equipment at the ATCs and partnership with Dig-farm on portable soil testing equipment and extensive soil management training.
The county will also collaborate with relevant state agencies and ministries to construct new water pans and desilt the existing dams and pans for small scale irrigation.
Speaking at the event, Elgeyo Market Agriculture Executive, Ann Kibosia and her Nakuru counterpart Dr. Immaculate Maina said the regulations are an idea whose time has come. They said their counties will collaborate with Nyandarua and other potato producing counties to ensure farmers benefit.
Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) representative, Leonard Kubok said the regulations are a law by themselves, meant to ensure “fair trade and equitable distribution of benefits in the potato value chain and more so for farmers.”
Kubok said AFA has sent intelligence teams to major markets and the information they are getting is that are resistant and discriminative to 50Kg packages. He warned that the fines against those convicted of offending the new Regulations are punitive as one will serve three years in jail or pay a fine of sh5 million or both.