KENYA – The government of Kenya has unveiled a Ksh30 million (US$263,000) project to enable more potato farmers access certified seeds to boost production.

Part of the deal, according to reports by Kenya News Agency, involves increasing high quality certified potato seed availability to farmers by 25 per cent through rapid multiplication, increased field seed bulking as well as capacity building of commercial seed growers in Nakuru county.

Farmers will be linked to research institutions including Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Agriculture Development Corporation (ADC) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) to ensure they procure clean and certified planting materials.

The project is financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries under the National Agricultural Rural Inclusive and Growth Project (NARIGP), involving 66 farmer groups in Njoro, Molo, Bahati and Kuresoi North Sub-Counties of Nakuru, Kenya’s second largest producer of the crop accounting for 18.9% of national production.

The top producing potato counties are Nyandarua accounting for 29.8% and Elgeyo Marakwet contributing 16.2% of total production.

Other potato producing regions include Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado and Kwale.

In Nakuru, there are about 20,000 farmers growing potatoes on more than 38,000 acres of land with a total production of 160,000 tonnes of assorted varieties grown with Shangi dominating the sector.

Countrywide, the crop is cultivated by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth Ksh30 billion to Ksh40 billion (US$263m – US$351m) per year. Small-scale farmers contribute 83 per cent of the total production.

The potato sub sector supports 3.8 million people directly and indirectly with the National Potato Council of Kenya putting its worth at over Ksh50 billion (US$439m).

Part of the projections for the launched project is to help local farmers produce high-end potatoes to enable them access the local markets, especially the franchises which are very keen on quality.

“Most farmers have been using recycled potato seed which possess clones of the same generation and are low yielding and susceptible to diseases.

“We are working to ensure that seed potato comes with different characters through hybridization,” noted Samuel Yego the NARIGP Capacity Building and Training Coordinator.

According to KEPHIS only one per cent of potato farmers in the county use official seeds with the rest using recycled seeds from their farms and the informal sector thereby leading to low production of the crop.

The plant inspectorate indicates that shortage of certified potato seeds stagnated production of potatoes at seven tons per hectare against a potential of 40 tons.

Through the NARIGP, the National government is also constructing a Ksh117 million (US$1m) cold room store in Muchorwe within Molo Sub-County as it seeks to cushion potato farmers against post-harvest losses and eliminate their exploitation by brokers.

The cold room designed to hold four million kilograms of potatoes will be equipped with an information centre and proper storage areas which will prolong the shelf life of the harvest by four to six months and also maintain consistency in quality.

This will enable farmers to bulk the commodity and hence improve their bargaining power for better prices.

The state is also encouraging establishment of potato value-addition factories. Simplifine, a newly formed food processing company in Kenya, has jumped on this opportunity as it recently commissioned an Individual Quick Freezing processing line to extend the shelf life of locally produced potatoes and is set to launch its frozen French fries soon.

Kenyan potato farmers lose up to 40 percent of their total produce in post-harvest losses.

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