Potato farmers under the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb) have received a boost after the United Kingdom launched a Sh2 billion investment project for Irish and sweet potatoes targeting to improve their quality for the local and export market.
The investment includes the setting up of a factory in Elgeyo Marakwet, with an optimum 60,000-ton processing capacity.
The potato value chain investment project will process ready-cut fresh and frozen Irish potatoes and sweet potato fries (locally known as chips) for the local and export market.
The project will see the production of a new seed variety for Irish and sweet potatoes in its tissue culture lab that has the potential to double the farmer’s yield.
It is part of a partnership between the UK and Select Fresh Produce Kenya Limited (Select Fresh) and will be implemented through UK’s Sustainable Urban Economic Development Programme (SUED) in collaboration with Iten municipality, Elgeyo Marakwet county.
In addition to increasing farm yields, the project will also enhance the existing farmer co-operative societies by providing the necessary training and capacity building to farmers on better farming methods.
In Elgeyo Marakwet, which is one of the major potato-producing zones in Noreb, the project, which is expected to help reduce post-harvest losses and provide ready off-take of potatoes will guarantee steady farm prices for over 10,000 smallholder potato farmers.
Speaking during the launch of the project in Iten, British High Commissioner in Kenya, Jane Marriott said smallholder farmers are particularly affected by the harsh realities of the changing weather patterns and unstable prices for their produce.
“With this factory, I am hoping that one day I will be sitting in a restaurant in Britain and I will be served potato fries from this region,” she said.
Ms Marriot hailed the project as a transformation to the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers since it will build their resilience by providing them with stable incomes for household spending, including their children’s education.
“UK is proud to be supporting agricultural productivity and delivery of the bottom-up economic model here on the ground in the North Rift,” added Ms Marriott.
Exploitation of farmers
Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich said the investment will address cases of perennial exploitation of potato farmers by middlemen as well as create wealth for hundreds of potato farmers in the region.
“I am delighted and grateful to co-launch this processing plant project in Iten together with the UK. By having in place, a potato processing plant, we will reach all peoples at all levels,” he said.
“Elgeyo Marakwet’s economy is 95 percent reliant on agriculture and has never had a value chain project to offtake agricultural produce. By having a value chain project that provides additionality, we are helping to make our economy stronger. I know that in six months, we will be able to transform the economies of people and half the poverty levels in Iten,” said the governor.
Select Fresh CEO Eunice Mutua said they will work closely with smallholder farmers through intensive and regular extension services to ensure that what they produce meets international standards for export.
“When we complete the potato processing plant and start exporting to Europe, we will put Kenya on the map as the third country in Africa that exports potatoes. We are keen to ensure that the farming methods that we use are environmentally friendly to promote climate resilience,” she said.
Select Fresh, which is investing Sh2.4 billion into the project, will commence the production of 30,000 tons of Irish potatoes and 30,000 tonnes of sweet potatoes into fresh and frozen fries in the first year of operation, with production increasing to 50,000 tons each in five years.
The UK G has played a key role in catalysing the investment by providing Sh100 million in seed fund support. The project is expected to enhance the existing farmer co-operative societies by providing the necessary training and capacity building to farmers on better farming methods.
This support is also expected to help create more than 5,000 jobs in its first year of operation with the projection to increase it to 10,000 jobs within five years.
The project will additionally create climate resilience in the municipality by promoting circular economy management through implementing the already developed green strategy, which will handle waste management and also reduce food waste along the supply chain every year.
Elgeyo Marakwet county government is providing legislative and political support to ensure that Select Fresh has a conducive environment that will help them quickly set up their operations and operate efficiently.