Bomet county ,Kenya. 30 Nov’ 2017. Fear has gripped Bomet County following reports potato buyers are moving to Narok due to a biting shortage of the commodity in the North Rift.
Deepa Industries, processors of the Tropical Heat brand of crisps is looking for farmers in Narok County, where the firm says potato production is growing as Bomet shrinks. For many years, Bomet has remained the preferred producer of the processing varieties owing to its soils that are favourable to producing the right texture of potatoes.
The Kenya Agriculture Value Chains Enterprises (KAVES) that has been implementing USAID funded Feed the Future programmes to increase production of selected crops has focused on Bomet County as part of its efforts to support agro processing to increase farmer incomes.
According to a KAVES study, the potato was picked due to the sheer size of the industry that is rated big from the beginning to the end of the chain and positioned as food security crop number two in Kenya after maize and mainly grown by smallholders. Kaves Chief of Party, Dr Steve New says the crop is still the country’s best food security bet if well managed.
Kenya is dependent on maize which has been attacked by various pests and diseases threatening the country’s food security. An attack by Maize Lethal Necrosis disease and lately army worms forced a shift to alternatives and potatoes were a natural choice for Bomet as well as other counties in the North Rift region.
“A cost benefit analysis shows there is money to be made in potato farming. However, the potato value chain is encumbered in problems from start to finish. Studies show that seed, storage, agronomy, market systems, consumption and everything else about potato is loaded with challenges amidst a huge potential to create a robust sector like it is in Europe where they eat potatoes all the time either as roast, boiled, fried and more”, Dr New said at a conference in Bomet last month.
“A lot has been done towards sorting these problems to increase productivity, the most notable being availability of a wider selection of varieties but the industry woes are still far. Top hotels are still importing frozen chips due to lack of suitable varieties with the right texture, shape and taste, added Dr New.
Marketing systems are still disorganized leading to disparities between farm and markets prices. Farmers are on the tail end of the bargain as brokers dictate the farm gate prices
Storage remains a nightmare in the potato value chain creating an immediate need for county governments to build coolers for farmers to use for storage and marketing. “We cannot have a potato industry without refrigeration. You get best prices six months after harvesting and for this to be achieved farmers need technologies like small tractors for efficiency”, he added.
According to the Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme coordinator in Bomet, Evelyne Mwangangi,a value chain approach analysis in the potato sector unearthed major challenges from inputs supply to exit (markets). “Clean seeds supply is a challenge because producers are doing one variety here – the Dutch Robin being the preferred type by processors. Over the past two years the seed supply has been erratic. The County government has been trying to assist by bulking but it hasn’t helped much and due to the declining productivity, processors are going to Narok County denying Bomet farmers the much needed income”, she added.
The potato woes in Bomet are exacerbated by poor post harvest handling leading to high losses due to reliance on rain fed production. “When rains are good harvests are good and the opposite obtains if the trend is in the reverse. During glut farmers don’t sell due to poor market links. Brokers take advantage and buy the produce at throwaway prices since farmers have to sell to avoid losing the harvest.
To mitigate against seasonal production the government of Bomet is building a mega dam to supply irrigation water and enable year-round production.
The National Potato Council of Kenya has compiled a catalogue of potato varieties available in the country and a list of dealers to enable farmers access information on where to purchase what seeds.
For further information;-
Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (USAID- KAVES)
firstname.lastname@example.org / 0715818977