Kenya Government has been in the fore front of distributing potato seeds especially to counties that are upcoming in the potato production.
However as one of the high value crops for promotion, farmers have been struggling to access affordable certified seeds because few in place can only be located in faraway counties making transportation expensive.
Most potato seeds are normally purchased from large scale seed merchants’ farms in Kisima in Meru and ADC farm in Molo as well as Tigoni in Limuru.
Farmers from the County Government of Taita Taveta however now have a reason to smile after one of the many groups in the county got certified by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) which renders inspectorate services on all matters related to plant health and quality control of agricultural inputs and produce, to sell potato seeds for production.
Access to affordable certified seeds became a critical priority for Mbangamboi Self Help group in Werugha, Wundanyi Sub County due to great distances needed to cover to purchase seed. However to be able to fill that gap the group decided to venture into the process of getting certification from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) to produce potato seeds.
“We have undergone all stages of KEPHIS in order to get certification of being seed bulkers and Mbangamboi self-help is the only producer of potato seeds in Taita Taveta currently,” Renson Kifumbu the chairman of the self-help group says.
He added that as a 20-member self-help group, they now sell to farmers within the county potato seeds, which has now become their business.
He however notes that although it was not easy to get the certification from KEPHIs due to costly certification process in terms of transport, inspection, fertilizer and also soil testing, it was worth it since it had opened up new opportunities for the group.
“There is high uptake of agriculture in the county by the young people who we are training and teaching on agri-business and not just production of seed but also the demand which is also high,” said Kifumbu who is also the marketing chairman in the Taita Taveta potato cooperative society.
He noted that another big challenge for farmers in the county has been water saying however that through a project by United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Feed the Future funded Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program, they got support of irrigation equipment which they have been using in production of the potato seeds.
Kifumbu called upon farmers in the County to venture into potato farming saying it can be incorporated in any common meal but also urged the youth to engage in it as a business since it was fetching very good money.
On the groups plans to expand, Kifumbu said that they are recruiting new members, they desire to also graduate fully into a group reputed for production of seeds as well as increase their planting area to over four acres from the current 1.25 acres.
Anthony Kariku, the Taita Taveta County potato coordinator, said he had been working and walking together with the Mbangamboi self-help group since it started out in 2008.
“This certification has been good for them since we do not have any other certified group in the county. Initially, we used to get the seeds from Tigoni, Molo and Kisima farms but now the group has a competitive advantage since they do not have any competitors in the county,” he said.
Kariku said as a county they are training farmers to do seed certification at large so that they can get starter materials from them and be able to distribute to other farmers and this can reduce the cost of production.
He explained that the demand for Irish potatoes in the county has been high and also brought in more profit compared to crops such as maize saying last year 3,200 farmers produced potato with an average farmer generally planting in an eighth of an acre which took 4 bags of seeds.
“Potato production in a season takes three and half months and we have been working with other value chain players including, KEPHIS, Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Project (KCSAP) and KALRO to bring Irish potato to the county and make money from the plant. We started in 2018 and we have been doing great and in step starting with the seed certification,” Kariku said.
Martha Mwakina, the secretary of Mbangamboi self-help group which is one of the 80 common interests’ groups that forms the Taita Taveta Potato farmers’ co-operative society said the group which has 9 men and 11 women, during the first season of 2021, produced 70 bags of potato seeds while in the second season managed 29 bags due to the drought that occurred.
“We planted in the first season 12 bags of ‘shangi’ variety and we got 70 bags that gave us Sh 154,000 but in the second season and because of little rainfall, we planted 10 bags and got 29 bags which we sold for Sh54,000”, she said.
Mwakina explained that despite the low production in the second season, they are still soldering on since seed production is profitable and that there is high demand of seeds in the county and neighbouring regions.
According to the Taita Taveta CEC for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, Davis Mwangoma, over the years and working with stakeholders such as Accelerated institutions food system development programme under USAID, the county has increased its Irish potato from small quantities of 50 hectares to now 500 hectares.
“We currently have 3,200 farmers growing Irish potatoes in the county. We have been able to form an apex organization in the county namely the Taita Taveta potato growers’ association and for the first time in history we are not sourcing the seeds from outside the county but from our own farmers,” he added.
Potato is one of the value chains projected to add 2,500 metric tonnes of certified potato into the national seed supply annually. They are the second most important food crop in the country and grown by 800,000 smallholders, on 158,000 hectares, requiring 300,000 tonnes of seed per year. National certified seed production is currently less than 2 percent of demand.
By Wangari Ndirangu