A number of projects are being rolled out in Nyandarua County in a bid to help small holder farmers improve potato production. Under the initiative dubbed Potato Revolution Programme, new varieties have been launched.
Already, farmers see the new varieties as a game-changer; besides producing more per acre, the new varieties are good for commercial processing and have longer storage period, compared to the commonly grown Shangi.
The new varieties are Sagitta, Unica and Dutct Robjin. Although their maturity period is 90 to 120 days just like the traditional Shangi, the new varieties yields more per acre and are more tolerant to diseases and harsh weather patterns.
Ms Nancy Getubo from Kihuho village, Mirangine sub-county can’t hide her excitement as she narrates the performance of the new variety on her farm. Having been a potato farmer for five years, Ms Getubo says its first time she has witnessed a single plant produce between 10 to 15 pieces of potatoes.
She is among the first batch of farmers who have successfully undergone a 15-week training supported by Irish government through International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC), Ireland-based farmer organisation IPM, Nyandarua county government, among other stakeholders.
Farmers who train and qualify will guide other local growers in the three-year outreach programme.
“I have planted Unica variety and the crop looks very promising. The plants are producing between 10 and 15 potatoes,” says Ms Getubo.
“I was used to three and a maximum of four potatoes per plant for the five years I have been a potato farmer.”
Farmers say the short storage period for the old variety means they had to sell the produce quickly lest they incur huge losses. But selling off in haste meant using brokers who fleece them.
“The variety we have been planting does not have a long shelve life and either rots or starts germinating soon after harvesting,” Ms Getubo says.
Mr Patrick Boro, the IFDC programme director-in-charge of the Potato Revolution Programme says with proper care, the new varieties can produce between 40 tonnes and 50 tonnes per acre.
The current production is about seven to eight tonnes per acre, according to county executive for agriculture Dr James Karitu.
The poata programme is part of the implementation of an agreement signed between the county government and the Ireland’s government represented by minister for state for public works and flood relief Kevin Boxer early this year. The deal was witnessed by Ireland’s ambassador to Kenya Vincent O’Neill and Kenya agriculture PS Richard Lesiyampe.
In the current financial year, the county government has allocated Sh100 million to start the construction of a Sh300 million processing and storage plant at Shamata area, Ndaragua constituency. The project is supported by the national governments.
The programme is also aimed at teaching farmers modern methods to improve production, as well as introducing new ways of marketing. Plans have been finalised for farmers to adopt a strategy where farmers will deliver their produce in a common store.
To make the marketing strategy a success, each group of farmers will specialise in one variety and then join hands to market the produce.
“We have a team of marketing experts to guide the farmers until the system is streamlined. With the common store method, it will be easier for the farmers to engage in contract farming,” says Mr Boro.
“The issue of certified seeds is also addressed and we are working with propagators like Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation, among others.”
The main objective of the programme, he notes, is to increase food production for food security and improved income for the small-scale farmer. The programme will also be expanded to other potato growing counties after the three-year programme in Nyandarua becomes successful.
“The programme is yielding the projected results due to the approach model which we call Farmer Business Field School where we bring on board farmers every season who come together as a group that is cohesive and can work properly,” says Mr Boro.
The county also plans to start a project to propagate potato at Ol Joro Orok Agricultural College. This will also empower qualified farmers to specialise in potato seed propagation for easier access to quality seeds.