In many developed and developing countries, Irish potato is ranked among the most important source of household food along with wheat, rice, and maize. In Kenya, potato ranks number two after maize (FAO, 2012). Potato has a high potential for addressing food insecurity due to its high productivity per unit area.
However, farmers’ ability to have high productivity per unit area is dependent on many factors, such as availability of clean and certified seeds and good crop husbandry. In addition, market high volumes are dependent on the post-harvest handling skills and practices of the farmer.
The production and access of high-grade basic seed remains a key constraint in the development of a competitive potato seed industry in Eastern and Central Africa. In Kenya, farmers have been experiencing severe shortage of clean and certified potato seeds. Production of tubers at farm level is also below the expected productivity with yield levels of about seven tonnes per ha against a potential of 50 tonnes. Majority of farmers harvest the tubers before they are mature. They also lack storage technology and facilities, which results to poor quality and post-harvest losses.
To address this potato seed shortage, the hydroponics technology, a special type of hydro-culture, has been introduced in Kenya. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium. The basic principle of hydroponics growing is to grow plants suspended in a closed or semi closed environment by spraying the plant's dangling roots and lower stem with an atomized, nutrient-rich water solution.
Farm Concern International (FCI ) is partnering with the Wheat Foundation International, a wheat and potato seeds grower located in Timau, Eastern Kenya and various seed multipliers to ensure farmers benefit from this technology.
Wheat Foundation International is addressing seeds shortage through use of hydroponics technology and mechanization of postharvest handling of potato seeds. The organization is also pretesting cold storage of potatoes using locally available materials.
Through this partnership, farmers have been able to benefit through participatory training on potato production farmers. A two-day training on seed multiplication, handling of the clean certified seed, farm potato production and post-harvest management was conducted for 27 farmers from Meru and Kiambu Dohoma sites. This was aimed at building farmers’ capacity for enhanced farming practices and techniques, especially better post-harvest handling and value addition techniques.
In Meru, 50 farmers collectively purchased potato seeds worth Ksh 146,000 (USD.1622) from Kisima Farm. The collective purchase initiative was attractive to an additional 190 members of Commercial Villages in Meru which resulted in additional collective purchase of other seeds worth Ksh109, 770 (USD.1219) from Taai Agro dealers. Farmers benefited from discounted prices thus saved a collective amount of Ksh 20,120 (USD.223). Taai Agro dealers, one of the Agro dealers in Meru collaborated with FCI to supply TAV seed, and other agrochemicals.
FCI VISION : To have commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond