For many years, David Kimotho, a farmer in Nyandarua County has been under the mercies of cartels who offered rock bottom prices for his produce. Every season they bought more potatoes from him and he pocketed less cash.
Traders would capitalise on lack of regulations on weight, absence of organised farmers groups and a rush by farmers to sell before their produce goes bad after harvesting.
However, two years ago, the farmers formed a cooperative group and constructed a potato cooling centre that has the ability to store the produce for up to six months without going bad.
This, coupled with the recently enforced law on potato packaging, has given farmers something to smile about.
“Brokers used to take advantage of our disorganisation on lack of a proper storage facility that saw us sell our produce when the market is flooded for fear that it would go bad.
Since we formed a cooperative society and put up a storage structure, we have kept the middle-men at bay and are now making profits,” said Mr Kimotho.
The cooperative society comprises farmers in their sub- county, who aggregate produce for storage when the market is flooded and then sell it when there is scarcity and prices have appreciated.
“It takes just a month for the prices to appreciate. This facility has come in handy for our members who are no longer in a hurry to sell their produce. The 50-kilo rule has also come at an opportune time for us,” he said.
When the market is flooded, farmers would sell their potato at as low as Sh500 for a 50 kilogramme bag, but after storing and wait for market to stabilise, they sell it at Sh1,800.
The cooperative, which has close to 125 members, started with Sh200,000 as capital but the earnings have since grown to Sh2 million.
The farmers are also reaping the fruits of the Irish Potato 2019 regulations that requires traders to package in 50 kilogramme bags as opposed to the previous trend where the commodity was packed in extended bags, a move that subjected growers to losses.
Ms Agnes Kinyanjui said she is happy that following the implementation of the 50-kilo rule as this means more money out of their farming enterprise.
“We are grateful that this new law is going to save us from the losses as brokers have been buying from us at Sh1,000 for extended bags that weigh over 70 kilogrammes, that amount was not enough for us to recoup the cost,” said Ms Kinyanjui.
Beatrice Nyamwamu, head of Food Crops Directorate at Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) said they have been building capacity to all stakeholders ahead of the implementation, which took effect on April 1.
Ms Nyamwamu said so far 127 inspectorate officers have been trained and deployed in all the potato growing areas to ensure the rule is enforced.
She said nearly all the major markets have almost complied with the 50-kilo rule as there have been a reduction in number of kilogrammes from as high as 120kg to about 60kg at the moment following sensitisation of stakeholders.
“We have seen a significant reduction on kilos in major markets. Though it has not dropped to 50 kilogrammes that is required, people are embracing the new regulation as we move on with implementation,” said Ms Nyamwamu.
She said the food subsector has been free for all without a clear legislation, giving room to brokers who have been thriving at the expense of farmers.
“Overtime our farmers have been dropping out of production and this is the trend that we need to reverse by bringing in the enabling environment of legislation so that when farmers produce their commodities they are fairly compensated,” she said.