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Potato farmers abandon crop, despite county free seed program

A Sh1 million project started to boost potato production in February this year has ground to a halt. Nyeri County government distributed 18 tonnes of free potato seeds to farmers. ALSO READ: Uhuru takes charge of coffee sector reforms committee The plan was to have the farmers plant the seeds in March and harvest enough potatoes in August for consumption and recoup the seed in readiness for the current planting season.

Six months later, The Standard can reveal that the project was a massive failure, and that some of the farmer’s groups either never received the free seeds at all, or ended up recording nil harvest. According to an official report from the County Department for Agriculture, potatoes were planted on a total 22.5 acres, and 64 farmers’ groups benefited from the potato seeds. A tour of the region, however, revealed that only a handful of farmers benefited from the seeds that were hailed as a game changer for the industry. Those who did receive the free seeds have nothing to show for them. Stay informed while on the go by subscribing to the Standard Group SMS service. Text the word ‘NEWS’ to 22840. In Kabaru Ward, Kairi youth group received 32 bags of seeds, which they planted in two acres in March. They only harvested four bags. Another group that received free potato seeds was Kabaru Community Forest Association, which was given 30 bags to plant on 1.8 acres. They did not harvest a single bag, and the entire investment was lost, thanks to a potato blight attack. ALSO READ: Hospitals in poor shape, says senator Kieni East received the bulk of the free potato seeds. Here, a total of 184 bags of seeds were distributed for planting but only 25 were harvested. Kieni West In the neighbouring Kieni West, a total 64 bags of free potato seeds were distributed. Out of these, only 30 were successfully harvested. In Kabaru Ward, only one farmer successfully harvested from the free potato seeds provided by the county.

Micheal Mwangi from Kimahuri village received eight bags of the seed, which he planted on his one acre. He harvested 50 bags. “I sold 20 bags and gave my neighbours eight bags of seed. I replanted the rest, which I hope to get a good harvest from,” he said. He said most of the farmers issued with the free seed potatoes in February did not have much to show for them in August harvest. ALSO READ: Greenpeace asks Kenya to embrace ecological agriculture “I cannot say why other farmers were unable to reap from the seed, but from my observation, most were not ready,” he said. The county agriculture department conceded that the free potato seed project did not go as well as planned, blaming the massive loss on poor weather that bred a myriad of diseases and pests. The depart admitted that out of the 18 tonnes of free potato seeds flagged off with pomp and colour by Governor Mutahi Kahiga in Februar, 11 tonnes bore nothing. Water logging “The crop was affected by water logging, flooding and severe late blight. Most of tubers harvested were small. So far only 94 bags (of 360 distributed) have been harvested. This is only 38 per cent seed recovery,” the department stated in a report. The repercussions are being felt across the county that is now facing a biting shortage of potato seed.

While the rains have begun to pour, many farmers have no seeds to plant. Some, like Verocica Nyokabi, are opting for other crops. “Potato seeds have become too expensive. Currently, a 50kg bag of potato seed is sold at Sh2,500 and I cannot be sure that it is certified and disease-free,” said Nyokabi. She is preparing to plant cabbage on her farm in Mbiriri Village Kieni Constituency. In the neighbouring Mbiriri village, Jane Mugambi, and her husband Mwangi Kinyua, are already busy planting cabbages on their one-acre plot.

ALSO READ: Kenya to host fertiliser conference “We have been farming potatoes, but when we could not afford the seed we decided to turn to other crops,” said Kinyua. They told The Standard they had never heard or received the free potato seeds distributed by the county government.

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