Firms join hands to raise potato production

[Christopher Kipsang,Standard]

A new initiative seeking to boost yields and incomes for potato farmers in the country has been unveiled.

The ‘Potato Consortium’ backed by the Co-operative Bank of Kenya will target potato farmers in the country to help farmers increase potato yields through the use of appropriate input packages.

“The consortium of like-minded companies that play within the potato value chain, is addressing current barriers that potato farmers face, by enabling access to affordable and quality inputs, credit and sustainable markets,” said the bank following the unveiling of the initiative.  

The pilot programme in the first half of this year targets four counties - Nyandarua, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nyeri.

The initiative has brought together various global agricultural input giants and other entities including Agrico, Bayer East Africa, Simplifine Ltd and Yara East Africa.  

Benefit farmers

Co-operative Bank Head of Agriculture Business Esther Kariuki said the initiative targets to reach over 30,000 farmers by 2026.

“It is our desire that by 2026, this partnership will benefit 30,000 potato farmers in Kenya, improving yields by over 50 per cent and reducing post-harvest losses by at least 50 per cent, thereby delivering prosperity for farming communities,” she said during the signing of the agreement in Nyandarua County.

“Key gaps will be addressed including agronomy, commercial and digital knowledge, access to finance and market.

Others present during the signing of the memorandum of understanding were Nyandarua Governor Kiarie Badilisha, Agrico’s Corien Herweijer, Bayer East Africa’s Eunice Waithaka, Simplifine Ltd’s Steven Carlyon and Yara East Africa’s Carol Mumo.

A brief of the programme says each of the partners within the consortium has developed solutions that will help farmers increase potato yields.

Yara, a fertiliser manufacturer, will provide crop nutrition and soil testing solutions while Agrico will provide seed varieties that are high yielding and appropriate for various uses.

Pharmaceutical firm Bayer has developed crop protection solutions and Simplifine will provide market access for the financed farmers by buying their produce.

“The Co-operative Bank of Kenya will provide capacity building support to the county government and co-operative societies to enable them form and run strong, efficient and well governed potato Co-operatives,” the brief said. 

The bank will also provide affordable financing options for the farmers to ensure timely access to quality inputs, water, mechanisation and post-harvest solutions.

Capacity building

The backbone of the programme will be capacity building on a number of areas including good agronomical practices, financial literacy and contractual literacy with agronomy support provided to assist farmers farm correctly.

“The end result of this is higher yields experienced by farmers, creating sustainable incomes for the farmers,” the partners said.

Potato is among the top five important crops in Kenya and is a staple for most households, with approximately 450,000 acres of the crop planted per year. 

Studies show that the average productivity is three tonnes per acre, making potato farming a loss-making venture for farmers.

Industries within the potato value chain also have growth limitations, agricultural experts say.

“However, with the joint efforts of the partners in the consortium, the productivity can improve to approximately 14 tonnes per acre, with this contributing to food security and through consistent supply of potato, industries can grow.”

Last year, Kenyans were shocked when fast food giant KFC said it had run out of French fries following non-delivery of potatoes from its overseas suppliers.

It was a major surprise that potatoes had to be imported, amid the perennial cry by Kenya’s potato farmers especially in the glut zone of Nyandarua, about lack of market for their produce.

The potato consortium said the fast food chain has since taken measures to support local farmers.

“KFC was equally shocked by the sharp public rebuke, and together with other stakeholders have been working quietly behind the scenes to put in place mechanisms for a farmer-anchored sustainable supply chain for potatoes,” said the brief.  

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