As the country faces looming food shortage, farmers say lack of potato seeds is a major problem which must be addressed urgently to boost food security.
The secretary of Kenya National Potato Farmers Association, Mr. Edward Mwamba, said the country requires 50 tonnes of seeds annually but about 3,000 tonnes of certified seed potatoes are supplied by agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) and the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (Kari).
A commercial programme established by the government to produce and market seed potatoes in the 1980s collapsed due to sub-division of ADC and Kari farms.
“Farmers lack access to quality seeds due to inadequate seed production malfunctioning seed distribution system and lack of adequate land for research,” said Mr. Leonard Ochieng’, the Rift Valley Provincial Director of Agriculture.
“Land grabbing of research land belonging to Kari has paralyzed seed production and nobody should blame Kari for not producing enough seeds for farmers,” said a Kari researcher who declined to be quoted as he is not authorized to speak on behalf of institute.
The researcher said the only way to boost seed production was to reclaim all grabbed Kari land to enable the institute carry its core role in the production of potato seeds.
Other challenges facing the potato production in the country include inadequate funding, lack of irrigation infrastructure, high cost of inputs such as fertilizer, lack of storage facilities and high seed transport costs.
The grading and packaging of standards established by the government in the legal notice No.44 of May 2005 which stipulated that a bag should not exceed 110Kg has not been enforced.
“The enforcement has been weak despite the provision of the legal notice No. 113 empowering the Local Government to enforce it but unfortunately it has been flouted with impunity,” said Mr. Ochieng’.
In Rift Valley, Irish potatoes are grown mainly in Nakuru, Kericho, Laikipia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gichu and Baringo counties.
According to a researcher at Kari, only 100,000 hectares of land is under potato production which produces one million tonnes. The country’s requirement is 60 million tonnes.
Irish potatoes are commonly consumed in fresh form but change of eating habits has led to increased consumption of processed snacks such as French fries popularly known as chips.
By Francis Mureithi
Sunday Nation, Page 33
May 27, 2012.