The budding seed potato production business in Taita Taveta County

Anastasia Myambu in a potato seed farm owned by her producer group, Mreshinyi Farmers Group in Wusi/Kishamba Ward, Mwatate

When the County Government of Taita Taveta identified potato as one of the high value crops for promotion in 2017, farmers’ access to affordable certified seed became a critical priority, and for good reasons. They did not have it and had to have it. For it is widely acknowledged that improved seed is the essential foundation for attaining the desired agricultural transformation on smallholder farms that determines the success of all other efforts, such as applying fertilizers, adopting better soil management practices, securing a new market opportunity or producing a more nutritious mix of food crops.

However, accessing to certified seed remained a challenge both for the potato farmers and the County Government due to lack of a robust potato seed system that would ensure consistent production and timely supply of adequate quantities. It is a challenge the United States Agency for International Development/Feed the Future funded Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program, took up in 2019, setting in motion the establishment a potato seed system – a web of individuals, organizations, and institutions that would be involved in the development, multiplication, processing, storage, distribution, and marketing of seed potato. The International Potato Center (CIP) is leading the implementation of AVCD’s Potato Value Chain Component.

First, it was necessary to identify the would be seed producers. With the help of County Agricultural staff and other stakeholders, AVCD in 2019 identified three potential seed potato producer groups in the County: Mreshenyi, Werughia , and Mchugunyi. Through learning and demonstration farms, these groups received training on good agricultural practices (GAP), procedures, and requirements for production of certified seed potato in line with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service requirements .

Satisfied with the training the farmers had gone through, the Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Program (KCSAP) supported them with, foundation seed, pesticides, and fertilizer they needed for production of seed potatoes according to Kariku, Taita Taveta County Potato Coordinator. The foundation seed was procured from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.

A good start for potato seed production
It has been a good start for potato seed production in Taita Taveta. ‘Through AVCD, we are on course to establishing a good seed system that will ensure steady and timely supply of seed potato . For the first time in the County’s history, we produced 9 tonnes of potato seed during the long rains of 2020,’ states Davis Mwangoma, Taita Taveta County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.

‘For 2021, we acquired 2.85 tonnes of basic seed from Agricultural Development Corporation, Molo, which we supplied to our seed producers and hope to produce 20 tonnes,’ states Peter Mwamburi, TTFPFO manager.

Scaling up seed potato production
Encouraged by good harvest in 2020, TTFPFO and the producer groups are scaling up seed potato production.

For Mreshinyi Farmers Group in Wusi/Kishamba Ward, Mwatate, one of the seed producer groups planted 11 bags (550 kg) of basic seed as a group in the long rains season of 2020. The yields were encouraging, harvesting 77 bags (3,850 kg) of seed. From these, the group distributed 100kg of seed to every member and sold the rest at 60 Kenya Shillings (Ksh) to TTPFPO.

Impressed with the returns, the group is increasing the production more than fivefold. ‘Members are so fired up with the new venture that every member has committed to plant at least 100kg next season, up from the 20 kgs they planted last season. As a group, we are doubling the production from the 550 kgs to 1 tonne next season,’ states Henry Wandagu, the group Chairman.

A Mreshinyi group member, Anastasia Myambu, from Ngerenyi Mwakivua village, is hooked to potato seed production. ‘This was my first time to plant potatoes, and it will not be my last going with the returns. From the 20 kgs I planted, I harvested 200 kgs. I have now planted 100 kg and looking forward to a bumper harvest. Out of the remaining 100 kgs, I sold some at 60 shillings per Kg, and donated some to my neighbors who had been really impressed with the crop performance but did not have cash to purchase the seed.’

‘We are grateful to USAID [the United States Agency for International Development], AVCD program, CIP, KCSAP and County Government. The GAP trainings were very helpful in impacting our farmers with the appropriate agronomic skills. The setting up of the learning farms and other promotional activities helped us to appreciate the performances of the various varieties and really ignited the interest and passion you see in our farmers,’ states Mwamburi adding, ‘The leadership training has proved critical to the setting up, operations and management of the organization and is helping run the organization as a business enterprise.’

TTPFPO had only 26 members at its establishment. Within just one year, it has mobilized and registered 600 members but ambitiously targets to have 1000 members by end of June 2021. To achieve this feat, the organization has tasked the 11 committee members to recruit at least 45 members by end of June 2021. ‘It is important to achieve this feat if we are to break even as a business. On average, our farmers have 0.5 acres committed to production of seed potato . With 1 shilling per/kg per farmer as our markup and 2 shillings per kg from each farmer as their savings, we need 3000 – 4000 farmers to break even according to our business plan,’ states Mwamburi.

Attaining the 1000 membership also comes with goodies from the County Government that helped the group develop its Business Plan. It has promised to provide a Ksh 10 million grant for construction of a storage facility should the group attain the 1000-membership, according to Kariku.

‘Our target is to be self-reliant in seed production. We are confident that we the support we are getting from AVCD, the various producer groups and their umbrella organizations will be sufficient in the next 2 years,’ states Mwamburi.