Farmers worried about shortage of certified potato seeds

Kenya is facing a severe shortage of good quality seed potatoes. This is threatening the country’s food security as farmers are unable to source supplies from Agricultural Development Corporation in Molo.

The Molo project in Nakuru County is the main centre of potato seed production, storage and distribution in the country.

Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (Kalro) potato research in Tigoni in Kiambu County supplements the Molo project.

Nakuru is the second largest producer of the crop in Kenya, accounting for 18.9 per cent of national production.

In Nakuru, there are about 20,000 farmers growing potatoes on more than 38,000 acres of land with a total production of 160,000 tonnes.

The crop is cultivated by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth between Sh30 to Sh40 billion per year. Small-scale farmers account for 83 per cent of the total production.

According to the National Potato Council of Kenya, the Sh50 billion worth sub-sector supports 3.8 million people directly and indirectly.

The tissue culture laboratory was established to aid in the rapid multiplication of seed potatoes but has run out of supplies.

However, over the past two years, the seed supply has been erratic, affecting the production of the crop which is a scheduled crop under the Crops Act, of 2013.

This means that the Agriculture and Food Authority should provide regulations for the crop as the seed quality plays a critical role in the potato available to consumers.

The shortage is coming at a time when farmers are enjoying the onset of heavy rains in most potato-growing regions like Nakuru, Nyandarua, Bomet, Nyeri and Nandi.

Other top-producing potato counties are Elgeyo Marakwet, Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado and Kwale.

The Molo-based ADC which sits on a two-acre piece of land has the capacity to produce 200,000 bags of 50 kilos from about 2,000 acres of land it owns but only utilises 500 acres which produce 50,000 bags of seeds.

However, most smallholder farmers are unable to purchase the 50kg bag which goes between Sh3,000 and Sh3,500.

Due to the rising cost of farming, most smallholder farmers prefer to use uncertified seeds whose quality is poor and spreads diseases on their farms.

According to agricultural experts in seed production, only about five and 10 per cent of middle-level farmers with lands measuring between 10 acres and above rely on supplied seeds from Molo ADC.

Others opt to get clean tubers from private seed producers like Kisima, Syngenta, Suera, Agreco, GTIL, Gen-Biotech, Singus Enterprises and Kimingi Farm in Narok County.

“I went to purchase potato seeds following the rains but I was told there were no seeds,” said Mr John Kamau, a potato farmer in Rongai.

Some of the outlets in Nakuru City that sell potato seeds said they had run out of stock.

“We normally get our certified seeds from ADC Molo but we have run out of stock and we don’t know when we are going to get the next supply,” said a trader in Nakuru City.

A farmer said he is staring at a big loss as he had signed a trade deal with a local hotel to supply potatoes in the next four months.

 “I had taken a bank loan to buy potato seeds after securing an order to supply a hotel in Nakuru City but it seems now I will have to cancel the order if I don’t get the seeds in good time,” said the farmer.

A senior ADC board member confirmed that the state agency has run out of seeds.

 “There are no seeds anywhere in our stores. We had a crop failure last year in our seed farm in Sirikwa in Mau Narok which has affected our seed production,” said the official.

He added: “There is a crisis because the Ministry of Agriculture did not think of importing the seeds following the crop failure.”

“We have a big crisis that could affect food security across the country,” said Ms Jane Kiama, a farmer in Mau Narok.

Another farmer in Nyandarua said he had prepared his five acres of land ready to plant potatoes on the onset of rains.

“I have searched for certified potato seeds in Narok and Nyandarua but I can’t find even a 20kg tin. I have spoken to the local administration to use chiefs to find out if there are some farmers who still have the seeds but it’s all in vain. I’m now contemplating planting beans. This is scandalous.”

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