Access to clean seed, knowledge of good agronomic practices and hard work leads youth to a tenfold potato harvest in Kibirichia, Meru County, Kenya.
Atop a hillside, in the remote village of Kathetene, Meru County in Kenya, 23-year-old Stanley Muriuki wakes up at 5am to begin his day. He scouts through a two-acre potato plot of Asante variety, to check the health of his crop.
Stanley will not be alone on this plot for long—he will be joined by other youthful farmers, Agnes Kinya (24), Faith Kanana (26), Everlyne Makena (21) and Lucy Muthoni (24). Together, the five form a youth group—Royal Youth group. Today they will be cutting overgrown grass around their plot.
It is now 8am, and as planned, the group members arrive, and everyone takes up a working tool. The group is eager to harvest this crop, they had seen how much more they harvested with clean seed potato the previous planting season. “We expect a bumper harvest from this plot and we will tell you why,” says Stanley.
Royal group had planted potato before, they saw this as their way out of struggle but things did not happen as planned. “We planted 800 kg of recycled seed potato from a local market during the March 2017 season of Shangi variety because planting time had arrived. We did not know that there were other sources of seed,” says Stanley. “We harvested a paltry 1,800 kg.” (Equivalent to 1.8 tones/acre).
“In this area, it is either too cold or too hot,” says Stanley. “The cold damages potato vines with frostbite, while heat makes them wilt but this did not discourage us.”
Clean seed and improved agronomic practises
In August 2017, the group attended a field day where they met Mr. James Ngugi who is one of five youth lead farmer-trainers and a Hub Seed Multiplier (HSM) facilitated by Farm Input Promotions Africa (FIPS-Africa) in Meru County. James, aged 26, is the HSM responsible for Kibirichia ward and, since 2016, has supported over 3,800 farmers to improve their potato production.
HSMs are supported through US government’s Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program in partnership with the International Potato Center to catalyze improved productivity and higher returns for potato farmers.
HSMs produce clean seed potato and sell locally to farmers who would otherwise struggle to access seed which is less prone to diseases. They also train farmers about the benefits of clean seed, new varieties that are available and good agronomic practices such as hilling that can double yields.
“We visited James’ seed store a few days after the field day to check the quality of seed he had,” explains Stanley. The youth group purchased 800 kg of clean seed of the Sherekea variety from James, the HSM.
Frequent backstopping visits, by James, to their farm made the team realize that they had planted haphazardly the previous season. At planting, James ensured that along with the clean seed he sold them, the group had adopted correct spacing, good hilling and timely spraying.
“We learnt very simple things from James, things we could have read in books but become easy to adopt when he demonstrated them practically,’’ says Faith Kanana who is the interim secretary to the youth group. “Joining this group is a life changer to us ladies, we can clearly tell that our efforts will amount to something.”
Tenfold potato harvest
In February 2018, the youth group harvested 8,200 kg ware potato (equivalent to 8.2 tons/acre). “It was a miracle that neither I nor anyone else in the group had expected. We could not believe it,” says Stanley.
After such a successful harvest, the group began receiving multiple visitors every day. Other farmers wanted to learn their secret. “There is no secret, we planted clean seed potato, did good hilling in a timely manner, and scouted our plot to check and manage pests and diseases,” says Stanley.
After succeeding with James’ support, the group had greater confidence and cash-flow so they pre-ordered another 1,650 kg of Asante variety, for the March 2018 planting season. They planted the seed on 1.75 acres of land.
This season, ending June 2018, the Royal Youth Group harvested 16,400 kg (equivalent to 16.4 tonnes/acre). “If we sell the potato at KES 20 per kilogram we will make KES 328,000 (USD 3,280). The cost of production was less than KES 60,000 (USD 60,000) so we will have a profit of KES 268,000 (USD 2,680). We will then re-invest the money back into potato farming for next season.”
The group intends to scale up to five acres in the September 2018 season. They will order clean seed potato from HSM James Ngugi.
With the renewed hope, the group can now afford to dream big and although it is still very early, they already have their sights set sky-high. They envision buying a tractor a year from today.
“The tractor will generate income for us. Farmers will hire the tractor during land preparation,” concludes Stanley.
James reflects, “It gives me great joy that I have touched the lives of young people through my work as a seed multiplier. Engaging with them has given me business but I have also saved the young souls by encouraging them to invest in agriculture at an early age.”.
Since the AVCD potato project rolled out in 2016, James has sold 40 tonnes of clean seed potato to 134 farmers in Kibirichia ward. “I have identified a two-acre piece of land that I want to purchase for potato farming. I will not say how much it costs because I am still negotiating. However, in February 2019, I will be a land owner thanks to AVCD and FIPS-Africa,” said James.
A study by the International Potato Center (CIP) and its partners from 2013 to 2016 showed that potato production in sub Saharan Africa could be increased by 140% if identified causes of yield gap were addressed. Poor quality seed was the top-ranked yield gap followed by bacterial wilt. Addressing these concerns means potato farmers, such as the royal youth group, can double, even triple production.
Read more: POTATO PRODUCTION IN AFRICA CAN BE INCREASED BY 140%: FIND OUT HOW
Blog written by Raymond Jumah who works for Farm Input Promotions (FIPs-Africa).