Irish potato farmers in Nyandarua received a major boost yesterday, following the launch of a value chain building capacity project.
Speaking at the Ol’Kalou Stadium, His Excellency Governor Francis Kimemia said the project will revitalize extension services through trainings on best agricultural practices, expand the market for high quality seed potatoes within the East African Community, double productivity of over 10,000 smallholder potato farmers in Nyandarua and strengthen relationships with out-grower business networks.
With the support of the Irish Government, the project aims at eliminating hunger and reducing poverty among households in Nyandarua by the increasing farmers’ revenue by 30 per cent.
It comes at a time when the second County Integrated Development Plan (2018-2022), which affirms the role the Irish potato value chain plays in Nyandarua and Kenya’s food security and income generation, is nearing finalization.
Potato is ranked second among Kenya’s most important foods, after maize.
Its demand is increasing as it continues to gain acceptance in many parts of the world, both for direct consumption and industrial use.
It is also among the food crops being promoted under His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda on food security, besides maize and rice.
Yesterday, Governor Kimemia said Nyandarua is well endowed for Irish potatoes production, making it critical to Kenya’s wealth and employment creation.
“We produce close to 550,000 tonnes on approximately 37,000 hectares every year, with an estimated market value of Kshs. 9 billion. This accounts for over 30 per cent of potatoes produced nationally,” he said.
The value chain directly and indirectly supports over 100,000 families in Nyandarua and is the second most important economic activity in the County after dairy farming.
The most prevalent potato variety with Nyandarua’s farmers is Shaangi, followed by Asante, Tigoni, Kenya Mpya, Desiree, Kenya Karibu and Sherehekea.
Governor Kimemia said his Government is addressing issues in the value chain by promoting mechanized potato production and introducing such new varieties as Rudolf, Destiny, Markies and Toluca.
“We are determined to reduce over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture; encourage our farmers to form co-operative societies for marketing and credit access; lower high input prices and build partnerships for shared learning,” he said.
Already, the European Union has pledged Kshs. 100 million to put up a tissue culture laboratory and potato seed cold storage facility in the County to address potato seed accessibility and availability.
The County Government is also in the final stages of finalizing Nyandarua’s potato implementation strategy, which is being developed in consultation with various players in the sub-sector.
Despite these efforts, Governor Kimemia warned that inadequate and inappropriate storage facilities; inaccessibility and unavailability of certified potato seeds; high post-harvest losses; low productivity; pest and diseases; poor marketing systems; erratic weather conditions due climate change and high inputs costs continue to pose grave challenges to the sub-sector.
Ninety per cent of all potatoes grown in Nyandarua are also sold as unprocessed tubers in local and regional markets.
“We are today urging the State Department for Agriculture to fast-track gazettement of agricultural produce packaging standards – popularly known as the 50kg rule – to streamline the market,” he said.
Present was the Irish Minister of State for the office of Public Works and Flood Relief Mr. Kevin Boxer Moran; Principal Secretary in the State Department of Agriculture Dr. Richard Lesiyampe; Irish Ambassador to Kenya His Excellency (Dr.) Vincent O’Neill, Speaker Hon. Ndegwa Wahome; members of the County Assembly; senior County Government officials and representatives of lead agencies in the potato sub-sector.