Root Crops such as Potato and Sweet Potatoes are relatively fast maturing as they take about four months and are thus valued as reliable food security crops.
Potato provides good income opportunities for smallholder farmers and enriches diets with minerals and vitamins.
Feed the Future’s Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program that is supported by USAID has been supporting farmers in 15 counties of Kenya to move from subsistence to market-oriented farming and into food and income security.
For the past five years they have been working towards increasing the capacity of 35,000 smallholder potato farmers to boost yields by 30 per cent, introducing at least 150 progressive smallholder farmers into seed business and improving seed and ware potato market coordination through access to market information.
Mr Reuben Kamau from International Potato Centre which is working together with AVCD says that Taita Taveta is one of the counties that has been embracing production of potato instead of just relying on French beans, the crop most farmers in the area have been growing.
“We want to revive Irish Potato farming in Taita Taveta County. Initially farmers would only produce 5 tons per acre. Now, they are producing 14 tons per acre which is a great milestone in this sector,” he says.
A baseline survey which was conducted in 2019, Kamau added, found that only 500 farmers were practicing Irish Potato farming adding the number has soared to 3,180 farmers currently.
Kamau noted that together with other stakeholders including the Taita Taveta County Government they have trained around 82 groups in the 41 learning farms across the County. “We have trained the farmers in different areas like; planting, good healing technology, disease and pest control, healthy eating and nutrition and also record keeping,” he explained.
Antony Kariku the Irish Potato Coordinator in Taita Taveta County said that the main challenge in Irish Potato farming has been the certified seeds but with the introduction of the new varieties through partnerships, farmers can now access certified quality seeds.
Peter Mwamburi, Taita Taveta Potato Farmers Organization, Manager said they are in top gear to revive Irish potato farming by moving from small scale to commercial since it’s cheaper to grow and fetched good money for the farmer.
“As farmers, we are in the process of forming one cooperative after growing in number. We have 26 groups with a membership of over 800 farmers engaged in potato farming,” he said noting that so far, they have managed to sell five metric tonnes of potatoes since last year.
Mwamburi however noted that the key to the good production boils down to seeds and thus were engaging farmers to ensure they use certified seeds.
Nahashon Mwadime, a farmer and chairman of KUZOYA farming group in Chawia Ward in Mwatate Sub County says although they have been growing French beans, most of them are now diversifying with some embracing potato production which has higher yields compared to French beans.
He added that less farm inputs in potatoes compared to French beans which uses a lot of fertilizer and manure besides consuming a lot of time during harvest also made farmers shift to potato farming. “We were trained by AVCD on how to plant and harvest potatoes and we have seen the benefits as we fetch good money from potatoes,” he said explaining that a maximum of 200 kilogram of French beans is what they get from an eighth of their farm. “From the same piece of land, one is able to harvest over 500 kilos of Irish potatoes,” he said.
“I compared the two crops which are planted in the same piece of land and the difference was like day and night as for French Beans I would pump in Sh4, 000 when growing and after expenses, I would only remain with Sh6, 000 after harvest, but with the Irish Potatoes, I would remain with Sh11, 000 after harvest after spending the same amount,” said Mwadime.
Angliton Mwanjiwe, a farmer and also a member of the group adds: “unlike French Beans, Irish Potatoes require little water and such do well since the region experience two rainy seasons and the potatoes only take three months to mature,” he adds.
In terms of Food Security, Mwanjiwe further said locals in the areas don’t consider French beans as a full meal as one has to consume with an accompaniment unlike potatoes which can be eaten as a main meal.
Angelika Mwaruruma, a mother of four and who previously planted maize said she harvested around 10 bags of potatoes adding. “Proceeds from one sack of potatoes can buy a sack of maize. Initially I used to plant two lines potatoes but with no knowledge and through recycling of seeds from my neighbours and just for home use. After AVCD trained my farmer group and introduced us to good practices and also proper seeds, am able to produce enough to sell,” she said.
Though some insects invaded her farm the first time round, Mwaruruma says she still managed to get some produce from her crop to a tune of Sh15, 000. “I call upon other farmers who are farming Maize in this area to try Irish Potatoes and see its benefits,” she said.
The potato value chain through the AVCD programme aims to reach at least 35,000 households in Kenya, with high-quality seed of improved potato varieties to increase income from potato production by at least 20 per cent and value of sales by 30 per cent.