With the unveiling of the government’s areas of focus for the
next 5 years, the stakeholders in the agricultural landscape are elated with
the identification of agriculture as a key driver to spur economic growth.
The agenda thus titled the “big four”, it identified pillars
that include food and nutritional security, affordable housing, manufacturing
and affordable healthcare will be relied upon to create and sustain inclusive
In a bid to improve food security, both large and small-scale
farmers are supposed to be at the forefront of not only farming but also farming
smartly. This ensures that there is enough food for consumption and also for
sale and also for some of farm produce processing to add value so that the
intended industries to have raw materials.
Among the crops largely grown to realize the national goal on
food security is potatoes.
At the moment potato is the third most popular food in Kenya
besides maize and banana. With the increase in population and shortage of maize
in Kenya, citizens are turning to potatoes as alternative food.
Potato farming in Kenya is also gaining ground as demand for
the potatoes grows due rapid urbanization and the increase in population. The
good price the crop fetches is another major factor why many farmers are now
warming up to the crop.
The growing of potatoes is also increasing across the world,
with China being the leading producer globally. The tubers have both domestic
and commercial uses. Due to their high levels of produce, Irish potato is the
second most grown staple food in Kenya after maize.
It fetches high prices in the market and they are very
nutritious since they are known to contain fat, sodium, proteins, vitamins and
proteins as well slowly releasing carbohydrates and phytonutrients.
Potato farming in Kenya is gaining ground as demand for the
potatoes grow due rapid urbanization and the good price the crop fetches. The
growing of potatoes is also increasing across the world, with China being the
leading producer globally. The tubers have both domestic and commercial uses.
Due to their high levels of produce, Irish potato is the
second most grown staple food in Kenya after maize. They are very nutritious
since they are known to contain fat, sodium, proteins, vitamins and proteins as
well slowly releasing carbohydrates and phytonutrients.
The recent rising demand of the tubers is attributed to rapid
urbanization creating a growing middle class population and the increasing
appeal of fast foods such as crisps (chips) and French fries. Irish potatoes
are the second most consumed staple in Kenya. They are generally grown in the
higher altitude areas, on rain-fed land, where they compete favorably with
According to statistics, more than 800,000 people in Kenya directly
benefit from on potato farming production while potatoes provide a source of
income for over 2.5 million people employed in the value chain.
Unfortunately, 90% of potatoes are grown on smallholdings on
less than 0.5 acres of land. Farmers are turning to mechanization to meet the
rising demand for potatoes by improving cultivation and reducing harvest
losses. However, there are other problems beyond land preparation and quality
of seeds and fertilizers that lead to farmers harvesting loses.
Coupled with pests and diseases, this greatly affects the
quality and the quantity of the potatoes. Some of the common diseases and their
signs, which are a threat to the crop, are discussed below.
The Seeds of Gold visited a potato farmer in Timau Meru
recently and one of the things that struck us about the crops on one section of
her plantation is that some crops were wilting, starting from the tips of the
leaves or where the stems branch out, and then spreading to all parts of the
plant. This led to their leaves becoming yellowish at their bases, then the
whole plant wilts and ‘dies’.
To help us understand what was happening we decided to sample
out few crops and cut the stems. On cutting, a brown coloured ring was evident.
The brown ring we noted on the potato stem is caused by
a) Bacterial wilt.
The symptoms of bacterial wilt infection can be seen on all
parts of infected plants. .
· Infected plant begins to wilt, starting from the tips
of the leaves or where the stems branch out, and then spreading to all parts of
the plant. .
· Leaves become yellow at their bases, then the whole
plant wilts and dies. When stems are cut, a brown coloured ring will be
· When a tuber is cut in half, black or brown rings
will, however, be visible. If left for a while or squeezed, these rings will
exude a thick white fluid.
· A further symptom is fluid coming out of tuber eyes.
This can be signified by soil sticking to tuber eyes when crops are harvested.
Serious infection causes tubers to rot.
This can be controlled by burying or burning the affected
plants and tubers far away from the potato field. It is advisable not to put
diseased plants in a compost heap. As an alternative, the farmer is encouraged
to burn them.
The best option to avoid loses is to choose a good planting
field: Potatoes should never be grown in low-lying or waterlogged areas.
Potatoes are also predisposed to Porcupines which mainly eat
roots, tubers, for cultivated root crops. Cassava and carrots are also part of the crops threaten by this wild
animal. Every so often, they will even take carrion back to the burrow to
In a bid to improve food security, Bayer E. Africa and TingA,
East Africa’s largest network of tractors and equipment, among other
organizations have partnered to empower smallholder farmers through potato
farming in a project dubbed -the
smallholder farming initiative. The project that is now changing the farmers’
lives in various counties kicked off in Meru in 2017.
Diana Gitonga a farmer from Timau area within Buuri
sub-county Meru County said “while TingA mechanization has helped us get better
yields our other problem here is porcupines. They come from the bushes and the
valleys around this area. They are a real problem here I tell you. We have to devise
a way of fighting them. They can really make you harvest losses.”
She added, “We are actually forced to chain our dogs here
during the day and night. At least this can scare them. We have been able to
overcome most of the pests affecting our crops as a result of the partnership
between TingA, Bayer and there other partners that ensure we get quality seeds
TingA field manager Meru Branch Joakim Mutai said, “weWe have
actually been helping the farmers to mechanize their farms. We realized that
just renting farm equipment to the farmers is not enough and that is why we
partnered with other key stakeholders to make mechanization a reality.
Through this partnership we ensure that farmers get certified
seeds that keep at bay all crop diseases as well as training them with best
practices. For the past 6 months we have trained at least 3500 farmers in
groups across the nation. We have trained farmers from Mau Narok to Meru on how
to tackle these diseases and pests that threaten their harvests.”
“We couldn’t stand seeing farmers losing their hard earned
coins after doing everything human possible to have good harvests. Our partner Bayer East Africa, has been very
helpful in supplying the farmers with proper pesticides to protect the crops from
stubborn pests,” added the TingA Rental Store Meru Branch Manager.
“Since we partnered with TingA, Quipbank’s project, in 2017,
land preparation has become cheaper and easier TingA provide farm support and