Potato farmers from Meru County are set to reap big after the recent implementation of laws governing packaging of the commodity.
According to the farmers, the law which demands that farmers package their produce in a 50 kilogram bag as opposed to the initial 90 kilogram will see producers get better value for their goods.
The elated farmers interviewed by KNA pointed out that for decades middle men have been ripping them off their profits.
They said potato farming had been invaded by brokers who denied them their rightful pay.
A farmer from Kibirichia ward, Imenti Central constituency, Gitonga Gikunda said currently they are selling a 50 kilogram bag at Sh.1400, while previously an extended bag weighing 150 kilograms was sold at an average price of Sh.1800-Sh.2200, meaning farmers are now getting improved returns for their crop.
Gikunda noted that potato farming required a lot of inputs like constant spraying to ensure maximum yields, thus with the effecting new packing laws, farmers will be able to meet costs of production which have been too high leading to minimal returns.
He said a hectare of land can fetch about Sh.120, 000 provided that the farmer adheres to proper agricultural practices.
The farmer urged government to ensure that the laws are fully enforced to tame brokers who have exploited farmers over the years.
In addition, he appealed to the government to establish a storage plant which would help farmers keep their produce while awaiting better market prices.
Elsewhere, a potato dealer at Mitunguu market, Janet Karoki said traders in the commodity will have no option but to also hike prices so as to earn a profit.
“Initially we sourced for potatoes from farms in Kiirua, Kibirichia, Kionyo and Timau and we could pack in extended bags weighing even 150 kilograms but not things have changed,” she said.
Karoki said that for traders to make a profit they will be forced to use a weighing scale to sell potatoes to consumers.
Meanwhile, many traders are opposed to the new laws governing potato packaging, saying they are incurring huge losses. They have warned that if the laws are not reviewed many of them will be forced out of the business.
However, the Timau MCA Collabo Marete who represents a big area where the crop is grown said they will not relent but will work to ensure that every stakeholder complies.
“We have seen some traders flouting this law, but let them know there is no turning back. Farmers have suffered huge losses as their potatoes were packaged in extended bags,” Marete said.
He said farmers from potato growing areas will have to form groups which will articulate the challenges they face in the course of production.
“With the groups we shall form a cooperative society to address various issues facing farmers and also have a better bargaining power for our produce,” he said.
The ward representative called on farmers to support the laws, noting that they stand to benefit if they are fully implemented.
The Kisima ward MCA, Joy Karambu said business people should comply to save themselves from penalties.
“We have engaged policy implementers unlike during the last regime where it did not succeed. The new requirement cuts across the whole country and I’m happy this will improve lives,” Karambu said.
At the same time, the county executive for Trade and Cooperatives, Maingi Mugambi said a major crackdown will be carried out to ensure both farmers and traders adhere to the law.
Maingi reiterated that the maximum weight per bag package was 50kgs and anyone contravening the law will be liable to a fine exceeding not more than Sh.5 million or a sentence not exceeding three years or both.
He appealed to farmers and traders to adhere to the laws noting that their implementation will in the long run benefit all players in the sector.
Meanwhile, potato is the second staple crop after maize in the country. According to Kenya Bureau of Statistics, Meru produces over 170,000 tons of potatoes and there are about 30,000 farmers planting potatoes in the County.
The country’s potato industry has an annual turnover of Sh. 46 billion and supports livelihoods of over three million farmers.
Accordingly, the national government through the ministry of Agriculture has been expanding production capacity of both KALRO and ADC laboratories, with a view to increasing the land under irrigation for potato production and sensitizing farmers to scale-up the use of certified potato seeds.
By Muguongo Judy