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Kenya: Decrease in Potato Production is caused by Climate Change

Potatoes sack

Drought and erratic rainfall patterns in Nakuru caused by climate change have drastically affected potato production and food security in Molo Sub-County leaving most small holder farmers reeling in huge losses.

The crop that used to thrive in the Sub-County that accounts for over 40 percent of Nakuru’s production of at least 2,500,000 tonnes annually is declining at an alarming rate.

This has resulted in loss of livelihoods as a majority of families in Molo Sub-County, depend on potato farming as their primary source of food and income.

Priscillah Mugure a farmer at Kiambiriria village is worried that drought at the beginning of the year, may have devastating effects on potato production adding that declining crop harvests, attributed to unpredictable weather patterns, has put farmers in a difficult situation.

“Many cannot cope with the untimely change of the climate. Some are giving up farming altogether. In the previous years I would harvest 12 tonnes of potatoes from this ten acre farm but this has dwindled to 5 tonnes which is very low. This means I now spend more on sustaining my family,” observes Ms Mugure who is also worried by the erratic rain patterns.

“Gone are days when I could predict the onset of rains. Weather has become more unpredictable in recent years because of the changing climate. For example, we may have heavy rains this year and face drought the following year. This makes it difficult for farmers to plan for land preparation and planting and thus affecting harvests,” she laments.

Another farmer in Turi North Hannah Wambui says that should rains continue to be erratic, agriculture will be seriously affected in future.

“For the past two seasons I have lost a huge amount of potato crop in my 20 acres farm due to erratic weather,” says Wambui.

According to her, climate change is a reality and has affected agriculture, crop cycle and production of staple food crops in Molo Sub-County such as maize, potato and peas.

Wambui adds, “The erratic weather patterns have left this agriculture rich region food insecure and livelihoods of thousands of residents threatened. It is shocking and absurd that some families in Molo are now relying on relief food.”

She hopes that interventions being put in place through public-private partnerships will help the Sub-County reclaim its position as a thriving producer of potatoes and other agricultural products.

According to Wambui other challenges potato farmers in Molo Sub-County are grappling with include lack of certified seed, lack of training in good agricultural practices for optimal potato production, poor access to modern technology, access to markets, and poor uptake solutions geared towards reducing the potential impact the sector has towards climate change.

In order to cope with climate change, farmers in the region are using a wide range of agricultural technologies and strategies.

“I have scaled down my potato acreage from 20 acres to 8 acres and I am mulching, intercropping and planting of food security crops with short life spans like peas and beans,” says Wambui.

The plummeting potato yields come as the National Government kicked off construction of a Sh117 million ultra-modern storage facility in Muchorwe, Molo Constituency.

The Sh117 million structure is expected to store at least four million kilograms of potatoes, which will help provide a timely market and better prices for farmers. The aim of the cold storage is to eventually eliminate brokers and avoid post-harvest losses.

The project is being implemented under the World Bank-funded project dubbed National Agricultural Rural Inclusive and Growth Project (NARIGP).

According to agriculture experts, potato seed production holds the key to Kenya’s food needs in coming years as the crop is now the most preferred staple food for the increasing number of mouths.

However, there is a ray of hope for farmers like Mugure and Wambui as SNV Netherlands Development Organization has strengthened its campaign christened ‘Climate Resilience Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT)’ to help potato farmers reduce production costs and boost their incomes.

CRAFT is aligned with climate-smart innovations and technologies geared towards cushioning farmers against climate change challenges like drought, floods, pests and diseases.

The project is implemented by SNV in partnership with Wageningen University and Research (WUR), CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Agriterra, and Rabo and funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign affairs.

According to programme coordinator Oscar Nzoka, the not-for-profit organization has outlined various strategies to mitigate against risks like drought, floods, climate-induced pests and diseases.

“SNV is supporting activities aligned to climate-smart innovations to ensure that farmers adopt climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies which are geared towards cushioning them against the challenges they are facing,” says Nzoka.

He indicates that the organization was using various platforms, including farmers’ field days, to disseminate information to farmers to address climate change challenges.

“Our eventual target is to convert the information, knowledge and new technologies into improved incomes for smallholder farmers and alleviate poverty,” he adds

During the field days, the organization involves other stakeholders along the value chain like agro-dealers, mechanization and market actors to provide solutions to challenges facing smallholder farmers.

Food security experts say climate change and variability negatively impact agricultural production, food systems and food security.

Many potato farmers practicing climate-smart agriculture have been experiencing challenges such as pests and diseases and soil-borne diseases.

“CRAFT is trying to come up with solutions that will support potato smallholder farmers to be able to tackle the risks that they face like pests, a decline of soil fertility, and diseases which are very rampant in the lucrative sector,” says Nzoka.

He adds: “We have introduced practices and technologies that will be able to support farmers to conduct potato farming in a climate-smart way by focusing on environmental conservation.”

County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in charge of Agriculture Mr Leonard Bor says Governor Susan Kihika’s administration has intensified its campaigns to enable small holder farmers adopt climate-smart innovations and technologies to help them reduce production costs and boost their incomes.

“The County Government has prioritized sustainable farming practices in its policies and budget to ensure food and nutrition security and build resilience against climate change shocks. Through public-private partnerships we are building capacity of both small holder and large scale farmers in practicing sustainable agriculture towards improving crop yields, stimulating the economy and helping mitigate climate change,” he points out.

The CECM observes that climate change has different effects on different geographical regions and crop performance, and stated that vulnerable populations are likely to be the most negatively affected.

The CECM indicates that the 2022-2026 Climate Smart Agriculture Multi Stakeholder Platform strategic plan (CSA-MSP) being spearheaded by the national government, aims to equip farmers with adaptation practices on climate action to increase food production.

He assures residents that the County government will continue collaborating with other public and private sector partners to ensure farmers access crop varieties that are resilient to drought.

“We are committed to work with research institutions, state agencies and private firms to have our farmers rear more heat-tolerant and disease-resistant livestock breeds that are better adapted to the prevailing tough climatic conditions, and which can feed on fodder more efficiently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product (such as milk, meat and eggs, among others),” notes the CECM

Mr Bor notes that agriculture is hugely vulnerable to climate change, particularly in Kenya, where crops rely on regular, sufficient and predictable rainfall.