AGRIMECH AFRICA Ltd is an expert on Modern Potato Farming
The Potato (Solanum Tuberosum, also called the Irish Potato in Kenya), is one of the crops identified for advancement as a Food Security crop within the National Big-4 development agenda. As an alternative to maize crop, as the middle class and young population dominate the economy and as urbanization levels in the country rise drastically, the potato has become an increasingly important crop. The potato is being eyed as the crop to reduce the cost of food with production targeted to increasing potato volumes to 2.5MT per annum (Technoserve et al. 2018)
Potato pre-occupies the livelihoods of some 800,000 farm households. Potato can be labelled the smallholder farmer’s crop in Kenya. Its production contributes KSh 30-40B per annum at retail level, but production has not grown since 2010 for various material and value-chain challenges. In Kenya, the potato can raise national GDP by 0.3% if 40 percent of farmers farming the crop would only double their yields. By doing so, the smallholder farmers would increase their profit by KSh 70,000 to 140,000 per year.
In terms of smallholder farmer profitability, mechanization will reduce waste by 5-10% and increase yields by about 30%. The challenge of mechanizing smallholders is the fragmented nature of their small pieces of lands, some being located on unfriendly terrain. Under these circumstances, specialized business models are needed, not just for smallholder potato farmers but for all mechanization of agriculture in Kenya, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
It has been reported (Technoserve et al. 2018) that the highest priority interventions for enhanced potato value-chain delivery should focus on seed and farmer groups, while encouraging business opportunities in processing, irrigation and mechanization. While several of these development aspects have clarity, have been advanced and have shown results, the one high-impact and missing intervention that requires the most urgent attention is mechanization.
The most urgent form of mechanization for potato in Kenya is for production. The value of this opportunity is estimated to be a Ksh 1 Billion per year for farmers and Ksh 1 Billion for Mechanization Service Providers (MSPs) even if only 10% of the sector is mechanized.
Potato Mechanization Interventions:
Potato mechanization needs interventions that address issues from 4 perspectives:
1. Technological and Economic Benefits of potato mechanization,
2. Financing opportunities,
3. Need for organizational development of Farm Based Organizations (FBOs) to receive structured mechanization services,
4. Importance of mechanization for volume and tuber quality delivered at the market.