Consumption of potato in Kenya has been increasing over the past few years and it is now one of the most highly consumed crops. Many families eat it as a staple food, but it is also becoming a significant source of income due to its short maturity time, high yields per unit area and the ability to harvest it twice a year as opposed to the other staple foods like maize. Its favourable agronomic characteristics have led many farmers across the country to venture into production of the crop. However, it has been realized that potato production is hampered by lack of access to certified potato seed as well as limited knowledge on good agricultural practices on potato production, post-harvest handling and market linkage.
Through a grant from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), Baraka Agricultural College – a Technical Vocational Education and Training Institute- Egerton University and other partners are collaborating on a Community Action Research Project (CARP+) on “Enhancing Access to High Quality Seed Potato for Improved Productivity and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Nakuru County”. The Project seeks to transform the potato value chain within Nakuru into a vibrant commercialized sub-sector for improved income and livelihoods of smallholder farmers through building the capacity of approximately 6000 farmers, building research capacity and skills of students and supporting incubation of business ideas along the potato value chain. Key stakeholders currently involved include farmers, researchers, the National Potato Council of Kenya, and other government actors especially those involved in rapid multiplication techniques.
So far, the project, launched in 2017, has registered three major achievements: setting up a demonstration garden, building a modern seed potato post-harvest store, and demonstrating general good agricultural practices in potato production
Establishing a demonstration garden
Baraka Agricultural College established two seed potato demonstration plots of the “Shangi” seed potato variety for students and farmers: one in the October 2017 to February 2018 season and second in the April to August 2018 season. Both fields were inspected and certified by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). The harvests, though good, however did not fully live to our expectations.
In the first season, 2.5 tonnes were planted on three acres, but the crop experienced a dry spell between December 2017 and March 2018. Inspite of this, we managed to harvest 10.5 tonnes. For the second season, the College planted four tones of seed potato on a five-acre plot. This time the crop was hit by very wet conditions and late blight fungal disease which we eventually controlled through spraying with fungicide. A total of 18.08 tonnes (about 3.5 tonnes per acre) was harvested. We hope these figures will improve in the future, given more favorable weather conditions and better pest and disease management.
Students of Baraka College participated fully in the entire process and gained valuable experience in managing seed potato production. The experience has greatly improved the teaching and practical capacity of our crop science lecturers who now have a positive mindset towards potato production for seed, food and a transition to entrepreneurship
Establishment of a post-harvest storage facility
Through the project, Baraka College has also set up a modern seed potato storage facility which can handle up to 50 tonnes of seed. This means that the college can plant up to six acres of potato seed at any given time and not have to worry about storage and is a big boost for student and farmer training.
Demonstrating general good agricultural practices in potato production
In addition to participation of Baraka College students in the setup of the demonstration plot, the project has made effort to expose students, farmers and stakeholders to general good agricultural practices in potato production from diverse knowledge sources. Staff and students from Baraka College participated in training on potato production at Egerton University Students from Egerton University and, in turn, farmers and university students visited the Potato Project at Baraka Agricultural College to learn practical skills in potato production. Both student groups later participated in Farmer Open Days at Kisima and Wambugu farm in potato management. These interactions helped to bridge traditional knowledge divides between the different stakeholder groups and deliver a richer, more holistic learning experience.
Impact and lessons learned
Even with the seemingly good harvests from the two seasons, the demand for seed potato is too high for us to satisfy. When farmers were informed during the Regional Potato Fair, that we are bulking shangi, demand skyrocketed so much so that we have already sold off all the potato seed that had been harvested. There is a real gap in providing certified potato seed. In the coming season, we will try to bridge this gap by doubling our acreage to 10 acres per season and addressing the agronomic practices that keep our production below the optimum.
We have experienced a couple of practical challenges in production which we take as lessons moving forward:
- Obtain special tools for harvesting to avoid injury to the potatoes
- Have in place recommended harvesting and storage sacks
- Time planting appropriately especially when relying on natural weather for production
- Dedicate a portion of land to seedlings in order to have a continuous supply
- Obtain the necessary equipment for sorting and grading the seed potato according to size. Manual sorting, not only takes longer, but tends to be inaccurate.
- Partner with the university to better address the agronomic production constraints from a scientific basis
On the training front, both our staff and the student community have gained a lot in terms of knowledge on good agricultural practices, scientific insights and practical competence on potato seed management. Experiential learning is a good approach to getting solutions for underlying challenges in seed potato production and close interaction with other key stakeholders especially Egerton University, the National Potato Council and participants at potato trade fairs have further enriched our capacities. We believe the College is now more competent in advising farmers and will have a competitive advantage as a supplier of clean seed in the future. For this, we are grateful to RUFORUM for offering us the opportunity to be part of the Seed Potato Project.
“Enhancing Access to High Quality Seed Potato for Improved Productivity and Income of Smallholder Farmers in Nakuru County” is a project funded by RUFORUM through a grant from the Mastercard Foundation under a partnership programme “Transforming African Agricultural Universities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s growth and development (TAGDev)”