The UK government will construct a shs.2.3 billion 60,000 tonnes irish and sweet potato processing factory in Iten town of Elgeyo Marakwet county.
Speaking during its launch at the governor’s office, the British high commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriot said the factory which will process fresh and frozen irish and sweet potatoes will guarantee steady farm prices to over 10,000 smallholder potato farmers in the county and the region.
The high commissioner said it will create at least 5,000 direct jobs in its first year of operation which will increase to 10,000 jobs within five years in addition to producing a new seed variety which has the potential to double farmers’ yields.
“The factory which is the first potato processing factory in the region will reduce post-harvest losses and provide ready off take of potatoes, guaranteeing steady farm prices for over 10,000 smallholder potato farmers in Elgeyo Marakwet county and the region thus transforming the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers,” she said.
She added that the factory will enhance the existing and former cooperative societies by providing training and capacity building to farmers on better farming methods.
Noting that smallholder farmers have been affected by the harsh realities of changing weather patterns, pest infection and unstable prices for their produce, the high commissioner said the project will build their resilience and provide them with stable income for household expenses including education for their children.
The factory which is a partnership between the UK government and Select Fresh Produce Kenya Limited will be implemented through the UK’s Sustainable Urban Economic Development Programme (SUED) in collaboration with the Iten municipality.
The governor Wisley Rotich said the county will fully support the project saying that farmers in the county have continuously been exploited by middlemen as the county has never had a successful potato value chain.
“Our county is the second in potato production in the country after Nyandarua but the farmers have little to show for their efforts as most of the money goes to middlemen while they earn very little,” he lamented.
The governor said he has posted cooperative officers in all wards to strengthen cooperative societies saying farmers will sign contracts with the factory as groups and not individuals.
The CEO Select Fresh Produce Kenya Eunice Mutua said her factory will work closely with local farmers to ensure that what they produce meets international standards by ensuring that they use methods which are environmentally friendly and promote climate resilience.
She said the factory will be the first in the country and the third in Africa after Egypt and South Africa to process irish and sweet potatoes for the European market.
Ms. Mutua called on farmers in the country to support the factory by ensuring that they supply adequate raw materials.
By Alice Wanjiru