The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service has rolled out a training curriculum aimed at boosting utilization of certified seeds for potato growers in Kenya.
KEPHIS Managing Director Dr. Esther Kimani said only one percent of potato farmers in the county used official seeds with the rest using re-cycled seeds from their farms and the informal sector thereby leading to low production of the crop.
“Shortage of certified potato seeds stagnated production of potatoes at seven tons per hectare against a potential of 40 tons,” said Dr. Kimani.
The training has been fashioned for public and private agriculture professionals working in the potato seed development, production and supply. These include employees of seed companies, Educational and Research Institutions, individual and group potato growers and agriculture extension officers.
Dr. Kimani observed that the crop was very crucial towards attaining food security as Irish potato (Solanumtuberosum) is the second most important food crop in Kenya, after maize.
The training curriculum also aimed at demonstrating that the tuber could be used as a raw material to produce a variety of products if value chain addition was adopted in the sub-sector.
The top producing potato counties are Nyandarua (29.8 per cent), Nakuru (18.9 per cent) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 per cent) while other potato producing regions included Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado and Kwale.
Nakuru County Governor Lee Kinyanjui indicated that his administration was collaborating with KEPHIS, the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) and Egerton University in seeking to unlock the over Sh15 billion potential of potato farming in the devolved unit.
“The county government is collaborating with KEPHIS and certified seed producers to ensure that farmers receive high yield and disease resistant material,” he noted.
The governor stated that Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) were also conducting research to improve potato seeds used by farmers in the county.
Dr. Kimani explained that the first module of training would incorporate individual farmer training, laboratory concepts and technologies seed production process, informal and formal seed systems, integrated management of pests and diseases, quality assurance and seed certification and public private partnerships in potato business.
“This will be followed by field visits, approaches to seed production and supply systems and seed quality control. The curriculum has been fashioned to provide farmers with an opportunity to exchange and learn new ideas from professionals through potato seed production guidelines,” she said.
Countrywide, the crop is grown by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth Sh30 to Sh40 billion per year. Small scale farmers contribute 83 per cent of the total production.
The potato sub sector supports 3.8m people directly and indirectly with The National Potato Council of Kenya putting its worth at over Sh50bn.
Dr. Kimani said the plant health and seed quality regulator recently released 38 new potato varieties which she urged farmers to make use of.
She said there were 52 certified potato seed varieties in the country that farmers should get from ADC offices.
“We advise farmers to look out for sticker labels before purchasing seeds in a move aimed at ensuring farmers buy certified seeds,” said Managing Director.
In 2018 farmers in Nakuru County netted Sh9.4 billion from sale of 541,000 metric tons of potatoes.
Mr. Kinyanjui indicated that in support of the subsector, the devolved unit has also brought on board the Baraka Agricultural Training College, while the National government has committed to constructing a potato cold storage facility in Molo.
“Construction of a cold storage facility will enable farmers to store a surplus of their potato harvest and wait for prices to stabilize. This will minimize losses and avoid exploitation of farmers by middle-men,” said the County boss.
The initiative targets to transform the potato value chain in Nakuru into a vibrant commercialized sub-sector for improved income and livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
It has incorporated mobile applications (Apps) that will enable farmers’ access high quality seed potato.
“With these interventions, it is expected that farmers will more than double their yields and incomes through adoption of good agricultural practices and post-harvest management technologies,” noted Kinyanjui.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) reports that on average, only about 20 per cent of farmers in Africa used seeds of improved varieties.
However, in the last two years, farmers who have used certified seeds have doubled their yields from two million to four million mega tonnes of cereals, soya beans and groundnuts and in monetary terms, this has resulted to Sh220bn in incomes for the smallholder farmers.