Unclean potato seed hampers sector growth

Unclear mechanisms in multiplication and distribution of clean and certified seeds continue to hamper the growth of Nyandarua’s potato sector.

Stakeholders, while decrying insufficient seeds to meet the county’s demand that stands at 700, 000 tonnes each year, have called for concerted efforts to invest in cleaner potato seeds and better varieties even as the national government promised a potato plant on its soils.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, during his recent tour to the county, promised that the national government will set up a potato plant to help in adding value to the produce for better returns.

We want to put up the multi-million industry in the county to help in reviving the potato farming sector. Local farmers will be given the first priority to supply the produce to the factory, said the Head of State at Kaheho stadium, during the tour on October 7, 2017.

Most farmers across the potato-rich county relied on in-breeding and the famous Shangi variety that characterised most fresh produce markets. This has limited their potential and earnings necessitating enhanced varieties for processing and those that are disease resistant.

A superior variety such as the Dutch Robjin is highly sought by processors who hail it for its quality products such as crisps.

Shangi, which yields more compared to other local varieties such as Nyayo and Sherekea varieties, is only fit for immediate consumption and has a short shelf life.

Farmers prefer it as it offers quick cash in times of scarcity, noted John Wachira, the County’s Coordinator for the just concluded Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness (KAPAP) project.

Wachira said that enhancement of the sector was a sure way of changing the lives of the residents, with the KAPAP’s 12 year existence in the county providing a Sh.24.48 return on investment with the local varieties.

The government’s move to offer a few farmers imported Rudolf, Markies and Connect varieties in the last two financial years, has been hailed though critics have expressed fears that the uncertified seeds would transfer diseases into the country.

We are yet to enjoy the ‘free seeds’ the previous county government claimed to have imported. Those who have them do not want to propagate them for sale as they seem to enjoy monopoly as a result of higher returns and have a direct link for more free seeds from the county, which is worrying, decried Joel Macharia, a farmer in Shamata.

The area that accounts for about 33 percent of the country’s potato produce now faces a new threat as depressed rains continued to be experienced in the region.

Governor Francis Kimemia, while welcoming the idea to establish the potato plant, noted that the County Potato Production and Marketing Bill, 2017 that is before the assembly seeks to address, among other things, the packaging of the product in strictly 50 kg bags as extended bags exploited the farmers.

Source: Kenya News Agency