KENYA – The Irish embassy in Kenya is looking to increase the number of counties under the Potato Building Sector Project that seeks to raise smallholder farmer yields.

The two counties set to be included in the program are Nakuru and Kiambu.

The pilot programme, which kicked off in 2018 in the expansive Nyandarua County, has so far trained more than 2,500 farmers in new farming techniques.

The project is implemented by the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), partnering with Kevian Kenya Ltd, and IPM Potato Group; an Irish company.

It seeks to provide farmers with comprehensive supply chain from seed varieties, extension services to market linkages.

In an interview with the Business Daily, Ireland ambassador to Kenya Fionnuala Quinlan said Dublin will first have to prove the concept before it can be rolled out.

“The model is still in the trial phase in the county, but once we have an absolute model that we can apply in other areas then we will scale-up,” Mrs Quinlan said.

She added there a number of counties suitable for potato cultivation had expressed interested in the project.

They include Narok, West Pokot, Murang’a, Meru, Nakuru and Baringo.

“The implementation of the initiative in other counties will definitely improve farmers’ yields and incomes.”

“If you can make a difference in the agricultural field then that will go a long way in impacting the economy since it employs about two-third of Kenya’s population and it forms one-third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” she added.

She noted that various counties are well-suited to potato growing thanks to its favourable altitude.

She added Ireland already has food companies and supermarket chains that are working with farmers in the value-chain.

“We chose the county (Nyandarua) as a trial since it produces about 30 percent of the country’s potato production,” she said

According to statistics Kenya produces around 20 to 30 thousand hectares of potatoes annually.

It is estimated that the crop is grown by 600,000 to 800,000 farmers with a total production of 1 to 1.4 million tonnes worth US$300 to US$400 million per year

It is possible to double the productivity by using good agricultural practices that include the growing of certified potato seed, proper storage of produce, among others which has been a hinderance to most of the farmers.

Last year the government of Kenya signed a US$6m deal with BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies and IPR Consulting Establishment to develop a potato cooling plant in Ol’Kalou area, Nyandarua county.

The cold storage warehouse is aimed at reducing post-harvesting losses.