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Nakuru to establish potato processing plant

Potato farmers in Nakuru will now have an opportunity to add value to their produce after the County Government approved the construction of a new processing plant.

The factory, which is expected to be up and running within six months, will be set up by Fresh Crop Limited.

County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in Charge of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives, Mr. Leonard Bor, said the processing plant will also save farmers from exploitation by middlemen.

“I am confident that the project will end the exploitation of potato farmers by middlemen who have been buying fresh produce at low prices and selling it at higher prices,” said Bor.

Bor added: “The economy of Nakuru is 60 per cent dependent on agriculture. I am confident that in six months, we will be able to transform the economic well-being of our people through value addition, thanks to this plant.”

Speaking during a farmers’ field day organised by the County Government in collaboration with Fresh Crop Limited at Mau Narok within Njoro Sub County, the CECM expressed regret that farmers have been relying on brokers who buy the commodity using extended bags of up to 100 Kgs at prices as low as Sh 2,000.

“We expect the value addition of potatoes will not only increase earnings for farmers but also address the issue of malnutrition and food insecurity,” he added. Potato prices have been fluctuating, with a bag of produce selling for as little as Sh600 during harvest seasons.

The establishment of the factory is also expected to reduce post-harvest losses and provide ready off-take of potatoes, guaranteeing steady farm prices for the over 15,000 smallholder farmers in Nakuru and the region.

“Our main goal is to stop unscrupulous middlemen who have formed cartels to rip off farmers. Our hope is that the processing plant will help utilise the produce which has been going to waste due to poor storage facilities and lack of market,’’ said Bor.

The CECM advised farmers to use certified seeds to increase their productivity.

He assured potato growers of the Governor Susan Kihika administration’s support in ensuring farmers get proper training on the management of potatoes through extension services, which will enable them to produce quality produce for local and regional markets.

The field day that attracted over 50 agricultural companies and over 5,000 farmers across the county was also graced by Nakuru County Agriculture Chief Officer Mr. Newton Mwaura, Nandi County Agriculture CECM Dr. Bernard Kiplimo Lagat, Nandi County Chief Officer in Charge of Agriculture Mr. Paul Sanga, and his Cooperative counterpart Ms. Carol Lagat.

Fresh Crop Managing Director, Mr. Christopher Gasperi, disclosed that some of the products the plant will be processing from potatoes include crisps, flour, and biscuits. This, he added, will give the farmers value for their money.

Gasperi indicated that the field day sought to help potato farmers keep abreast of the latest technologies in the sector, which is worth more than Sh50 billion as per the latest data from the National Potato Council of Kenya.

“During the field day, we brought on board many of the companies that showcased their products, services, and inputs used by potato farmers. What the farmers see as advertisements in mass media was brought closer home,” said Gasperi.

He added: “During the event, farmers got an opportunity to interact with experts and ask questions about their products and services, and this cleared a lot of doubts and misinformation. The knowledge the farmers gained will translate into a practical solution to their farming ventures.”

Gasperi said companies were allocated a one-acre piece of land to showcase their products, while Fresh Crop Limited donated the seeds that were used in the demonstration plots.

“As a company propagating certified clean potato seeds, we can only achieve our goal of reaching more farmers if we incorporate other players along the value chain,” he said.

The 39-year-old American nurse who is chasing his dream in potato fields started potato farming in Nyandarua County in 2019.

“I saw there was a huge opportunity for streamlining, and since Fresh Crop Limited is a decentralised seed company, we took in the needs of the farmers and moved closer to them to enable them access clean potato seeds. We also introduced them to agrochemicals that are not harmful to their crop,” he said.

“I’m happy that after exposing smallholder farmers to the newest technologies like hybrid tube potato seeds and apical cutting as well as linking them to financial institutions, this has ushered in new varieties in the country, and this has paid huge dividends as farmers are now reaping from their sweat,” he added.

He noted that Smallholder farmers have been struggling for a long time without any tangible solutions offered to them to sustain their ventures and earn more income.

“At FreshCrop Limited, we want to meet the needs of all smallholder farmers in the potato value chain because when we start scaling up this operation, we want to keep our smallholder farmers supplied with clean potato seeds round the clock in the entire planting season,” said Gasperi.

He lauded SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, through its campaign dubbed Climate Resilience Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT), for supporting his company to help potato farmers reduce production costs and boost their incomes.

“We have shared goals with SNV as it has introduced to us some of the new technologies of breeding, mechanisation, irrigation, and helping train more than 150 trainers-of-trainers (ToTs) within nine counties on adaptive measures for climate-smart agriculture,” said Gasperi.

He said this model of cooperation between the company and SNV has built trust as more farmers embrace climate-smart agriculture practises in counties like Nyandarua, Nakuru, Narok, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Kiambu, Meru, and Bomet.

About 800,000 farmers countrywide grow the crop, with a total production of between 1 to 1.4 million tonnes which generates between Sh30 to Sh 40 billion annually. Potatoes are the second-most important food crop in Kenya and are grown by about 800,000 smallholder farmers.

Records from the National Potato Council indicate that the industry employs about three million people along the value chain and contributes over Sh50 billion to the country’s economy annually. Small-scale farmers contribute 83 per cent of the total production.

In Nakuru, there are about 20,000 farmers growing potatoes on more than 38,000 acres of land, with a total production of 160,000 tonnes of assorted varieties, with Shangi dominating.

 By Jane Ngugi and Angela Cherotich

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