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Local institutions mobilise to triple potato growing

By Bob Koigi | July 30th 2013

By Bob Koigi

The Government has formed the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK to formulate a new policy to guide the growth of the  crop.

The policy aims at increasing the country’s food security and job creation. Potato is Kenya’s second most important food crop after maize.

 The sub-sector employs more than 2.5 million people, and has a higher yield per square metre than maize and three harvesting seasons a year.

At the same time, the International Potato Centre (CIP), headquartered in Nairobi is designing a potato seed master plan, which the State has promised to adopt.

CIP has already conducted an extensive seed market survey, gathering information on seed demand and availability from over 1300 growers from all the major potato-production districts in Kenya.

 The Centre is now working with private and public sector to introduce a new technology that produces high yielding potato seeds. The seeds will be in the form of the mini-tubers from which new potatoes are grown.

Higher production

The technology known as aeroponics, involves growing the seed tubers in mid-air, to deliver disease-free tubers with much higher multiplication rates than conventional methods.

In close collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), CIP is also working to test and release varieties of potatoes for smallholder farmers.

The tubers are resistant to late blight, the most serious disease threatening potatoes worldwide.

Late blight, which led to the famous Irish Potato famine, is caused by the fungus-like oomycete, Phytophthora infestans. It spreads through spores transported in the wind or the use of infected tubers.

 The State has also committed to supplying disease-free planting material to farmers along with subsidising farm inputs, searching for markets, and strengthening farmers association.

“Lots of potential lies in potato farming, but for a very long time government has neglected the crop,” said Nduire Waiganjo, a senior scientist at Kari. “No major interventions have taken place, yet this is one of the most promising crop, especially at a time when we are talking of having alternatives to feed the nation and provide extra income for our farmers.”

 Potato’s dwindling returns coupled with erratic prices have increasingly seen a shift to more lucrative crops.

The few farmers who plant the crop  have suffered at the mercy of brokers. The middlemen have cashed in on farmers’ desperation to dispose off the perishable commodity quickly.

“The intervention being rolled out in stages is expected to triple output by end of 2013, mainly “due to the roll out of new varieties, increased awareness through farmer field schools, and the creation of more markets for farmers,” said Waiganjo.

 Recently, potato farmers in Kinangop pleaded with the Government to intervene and control the farm gate prices of the crop to protect them from the brokers.

 There is already a law requiring that a full bag of 110 kilo of potato must be flat at the top, instead of an extended point. But municipal council authorities have failed to enforce the law.

While a standard bag of potatoes sold at the farm gate or wholesale should be 110 kg, the extension of the bag by brokers makes the weight jump to about 200 kilos.

This has seen farmers make heavy losses. “The difference is too high and the exploitation is unbearable, which is why a serious government participation would be really welcome,” said Victor Ngunjiri, a potato farmer in Nyandarua. —FarmBizAfrica


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