County government should turn Nyandarua into Kenya's food basket

Potato harvesting and packaging in Kinangop, Nyandarua County. [File, Standard]

"Cash crop ya Nyandarua ni mawaru" is a Gengetone song that was trending recently. Part of the song is loosely translated to mean that Nyandarua County produces a bountiful harvest of potatoes (waru). Indeed, the county accounts for an estimated 33 per cent of Kenya's potato production.

The county borders the Aberdare Ranges, hence the cold chilly weather. At the same time, it has fertile soil that produces garden peas, beans, carrots, cabbages, maize, strawberries and dairy farming, not forgetting the symbolic waru, among others. The surplus has not only been for subsistence use, but also for sale as most farmers rely on the crops for survival. They invest a lot of money in commercial animal feeds, fertiliser, labour and transportation of goods to the markets, which in most instances, does not yield the desired profits.

The county is so rich in agriculture such that during dry spells, cows rely on readily available residues from the harvested maize, which does not affect the milk productivity. Most dairy farmers get an average of 20 litres of milk from each cow, sold at approximately Sh40 per litre especially when the prices have not drastically dropped. Back to waru, most farmers own five to 10 acres, which they use for large-scale potato farming. Year in year out, they use the usual farming techniques that they learnt from their parents while growing up. It is perhaps the reason the yields have not been as good despite the adequate rainfall.

Other challenges include lack of infrastructure to aid in access to markets. In most parts of Nyandarua, roads are impassable during the rainy seasons. As a result, businesspersons are unable to buy the produce for sale to vendors in Marigiti, Muthurwa and other markets. Most farmers end up with losses after the perishable goods go bad. Vegetables eventually end up benefitting the cows and goats. Ironically, over 300 km away from Nyandarua lies Marsabit County, one of the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands areas mostly affected by episodes of drought. With good infrastructure, Nyandarua farmers would not be throwing away food while our sisters and brothers are starving.

To leverage on the county's rich fertile soil, there is need to address challenges that farmers face to improve farming and livelihoods. Agricultural experts, for instance, can educate farmers on the need to buy alternative certified potato seeds instead of replanting the ones they have harvested. Soil acidification due to use of fertilisers is also a challenge that experts should help farmers to address. Pests also hinder the proper growth of the potatoes and other crops.

In Africa, Kenya ranks sixth in potato production, producing about 2.1 million tonnes. Algeria takes the lead with 4.9 million tonnes, followed by Egypt, Malawi, South Africa and Rwanda, according to a data from National Potato Council of Kenya. Potatoes have health benefits. Let us collectively create systems where farmers no longer suffer from post-harvest losses due to lack of interventions that could be prioritised for local and export use. The 'County of The Aberdares' has what it takes to become Kenya's bread basket if the government renders farmers' the requisite support.

-Ms Mathu is a communications and public relations professional