How we produce quality, disease-free potato seeds
Every activity at Kisima Farm in Meru Country runs like clock work. This is where nearly all potato farmers in the region get seeds from, so everything has to be done in precision.
The farm has been producing potato seeds for the last 10 years.
Abiud Said, a manager at the farm, says they saw a need and have been trying to do their best to address it. Notably, potato production is currently at 7 tonnes per hectare against a potential of 40 tonnes.
Mr Said said they are still far from meeting the country’s demand for potato seeds; “From an acre, we produce close to 55 tonnes of seeds and we have over 90 acres and still that’s not enough to satisfy the market, we hope to increase the acreage to raise this production.”
He says a kilo of potato seed costs Sh55 while a 50kg bag goes for Sh2,750.
“I have just received an order of 900 bags from a farmer in Nandi but we can only manage to supply him with 300 bags at the moment,” he says.
To ensure nothing goes to waste, the farm has invested in different machines which also helps in saving time.
“Before we invested in the machines, we used to have hundreds of workers as we relied on manual labour which was tiresome and time consuming. Planting and harvesting became so expensive we had to rethink the business,” he adds.
With machines like tractors, he says, farming is more efficient and accurate with minimal losses.
“With the tractors, you can plant up to 10 bags of potato seeds in a day, a job that takes more than 200 workers to complete in three days,” he explains.
Currently, there are 15 registered seed companies dealing with certified seed potato in the country.
They include Kisima Farm, KALRO Seed Unit, Suera Ltd, Charvi Ltd, Sungus Enterprises, Gene Biotech, East Africa Seed Co, ADC, Syngenta (EA) Ltd, Agrico (EA) Ltd, Kevian, Seeds 2B, GTIL (Mini-tubers and Apical Cuttings), Stokman Rozen (Apical Cuttings) and Sigen Hortipruce.
All seed potatoes registered by these companies are inspected and certified by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (KEPHIS) and the National Potato Council of Kenya.
According to Said, they first take their breeders for certification by KEPHIS after which they are sent to tissue lab culture at Stock twin Rozel in Naivasha.
At the lab, the potato invitroes are checked to ensure they are virus-free, they are then transported to the farm where they are placed in a nursery for three to five months under close supervision. Each plant produces about 20 mini-tubers.
Use of mini-tubers has been employed to produce disease-free starter planting material for production of basic seed.
This is a quick method of obtaining large amounts of planting materials within a short time. KEPHIS has already developed seed certification protocols for mini-tubers and apical cuttings.
Isaac Sumbi, a grader at the farm, points out that grading is a crucial process in seed production.
“The grader tractor grades and separates the potatoes depending on size, the potatoes that are larger in diameter are sold to chips and crisps makers,” he adds.
“The grader machine has different compartments where the potatoes ae grouped depending on size which simplifies the process for us,” says Sumbi.
The farm produces over 18 varieties of potato seed which are sold to farmers locally while some are exported.
Potato is the second most consumed food crop by Kenyans after maize, and is cultivated by more than 800,000 smallholder farmers countrywide.
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