Nakuru County Government and a Japanese agricultural research and technological company have embarked on promoting new farming technologies for breeding multiple disease free strawberry varieties in a bid to achieve productivity for the country’s farmers.
County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture Dr. Immaculate Maina said the devolved unit was piloting computerized hydroponics greenhouse strawberry farming in collaboration with Tomita Technologies.
“The collaboration has seen development of new hybrid strawberry seed variety that is disease and pest resistant, high yielding and fast maturing.
Very few strawberry farmers in the county use official seeds with the rest using re-cycled seeds from their farms and the informal sector thereby leading to low production of the crop” she said
The county has also been partnering with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) and Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) to encourage both small holder and large scale farmers to adopt aeroponics, hydroponics and stem cutting technologies used to produce basic potato seed.
“Shortage of certified potato seeds stagnated production of potatoes at seven tons per hectare against a potential of 40 tons.
There is need to invest in production of certified seed as it fetches great opportunities and profits. Certified seed did not have bacterial wilt, black leg, nematodes or any other diseases. This is a relatively new technology in Kenya but is gaining popularity due to low incidences of potato diseases,” observes Dr. Maina.
Aeroponics is growing plants in air or mist without using soil, while hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil but using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.
The Agriculture CECM observed that strawberry’s demand was growing on both the local and international markets and that farmers should diversify into the crop as it was not labour intensive and require lower inputs compared to other cash crops.
“Currently, the county has only 5 hectares under strawberry production valued at Sh1.3 million. The new computerized hydroponics greenhouse farming aims at bringing more farmers on board. It is a very efficient technology that minimizes wastage of water and keeps diseases and pests at bay” notes Dr Maina
Tomita Technologies President Tomita Hiraaki said the new method had incorporated mobile apps uniquely tailored for strawberry farmers and was easy to operate, less laborious, and effective.
“Strawberry farmers adopting this technology will receive real time updates on control of diseases and pests, new seed varieties, market trends and weather patterns. The system is fashioned to conserve soil fertility and reduce water wastage” observes Hiraaki.
Initially adopted by Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) from Peru, hydroponics technology is an improvement on the conventional way of breeding potato tubers from the soil.
In Peru it was introduced by the International Potato Centre. The tubers are grown in liquid chemical solutions with extra nutrients that increase resistance to disease. The extra nutrients include potassium nitrates, calcium, and phosphate minerals.
Dr Maina indicates that her department was also working with KEPHIS, the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) and Egerton University in seeking to unlock the multi-billion potential of potato farming in the devolved unit.
“The county government is collaborating with KEPHIS and certified seed producers to ensure that farmers access affordable and modern technologies that guarantee production to receive high yielding and disease resistant planting material”, she noted.
She said that Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) is working with agricultural experts from the county to promote the uptake of hydroponics potato seed production by small scale farmers in the county.
“In line with the Big 4 Agenda, potato has been identified as one of the focus crops for nutrition and food security. We want our farmers to adopt new technologies such as stem cutting for potato production.
Irish potato (Solanum tuberosum) is the second most important food crop in Kenya, after maize”, she asserted
The top producing potato counties are Nyandarua (29.8 per cent), Nakuru (18.9 per cent) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 per cent). Other potato producing regions include Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado and Kwale.
Research and Development Officer at National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) Henry Kemjo said though there is a potato seed demand of 100,000 tonnes in the country only 5000 tonnes is produced and supplied annually. He said that KALRO produces 300 tonnes of potato seeds every year.
Countrywide, the crop is grown by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth Sh30billion 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 Sh50billion.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) reports that on average only about 20 per cent of farmers in Africa use 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, in monetary terms this has resulted to Sh220 billion in incomes for the smallholder farmers.
By Jane Ngugi