Dominik Dieckmann is a man on a mission. He wants to change the lives of potato farmers in Nyandarua County through value addition.
Mr Dieckmann, who is a German, is the brain behind the multi-billion potato processing plant in the county, which is aimed at establishing a complete value chain for the crop in the region that will serve as a model for other crops around the country.
The idea was conceptualised when he toured Africa for the first time, and realised the crop’s untapped potential.
“The plan is to establish a complete value chain for potatoes in Nyandarua County, right from the farm to the market,” Mr Dieckmann told Enterprise in Germany.
The project will involve a processing facility and a warehouse where potatoes can be stored once they have been harvested as farmers wait for prices to stabilise in the market.
Mr Dieckmann, an energy expert, says the plant will be powered by renewable energy.
“I realised in Kenya that farmers do not make much from their crop due to low prices that their crop fetches, as they do not have facility to keep their produce for long and wait for good prices. However, with the storage facility available, they can store it until that time when the price is favourable,” he says.
Post-harvest losses remain high on potato production because of the perishable nature of the crop.
The project is supported by global conglomerate BASF, where Mr Dieckmann works. The firm, whose regional offices are headquartered in Nairobi has been at the forefront in providing farming solution to farmers all over the world.
“With our strategy, we are opening a new chapter that puts the farmer’s business at the centre of everything we do,” says Vincent Gros, President of BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division.
“Farmers grow a combination of different crops with different growing cycles and cultivation requirements. That is why we are focusing on selected crop combinations, known as crop systems, where we have a winning offer,” he adds.
He notes that this way, they can best support their customers in maximising yields, mitigate weather-related risks and disease pressure.
Nyandarua government has already accepted the concept and has promised to back it.
The project will help farmers adopt good agronomical practices such as using the right seed that yields more compared with what they are using at the moment.
Kenya’s seed demand stands at 30,000 tonnes annually but the country only produces 6,700 tonnes, with most farmers recycling crop from the previous crop to use as seed, a move that has been blamed for potato shortage the country faces.
Kenya produces about two million tonnes of potatoes annually even though the country has potential of yielding up to eight million tonnes.
The Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) says the government needs to set aside two percent of the country’s annual budget towards research in order to boost potato production in the country.
“Potato is the second most staple food in the country and therefore the sector needs additional funding in research to come up with varieties that are high yielding and disease resistant,” says Kalro.
“We urge the government to increase allocation for research for the agricultural sector to at least two percent.”