A little known farm in the heart of Nyandarua County recently got high profile guests, thanks to a novel idea.
Ireland ambassador Fionnula Quinlan visited a farm in Wanjohi ward in Nyandarua County where James Nderui is using smart technology to produce certified potato seeds.
For his efforts, his company — Jaconta Farms Ltd — was nominated in the Youth in Business Category in the Kenya National Chambers of Commerce Institute 2019 awards and emerged the runners up.
“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that one day an ambassador would visit my farm and I would be honoured for my efforts. I started this venture to supply farmers with quality seeds after I notice the shortage,” says Nderui, an agribusiness management student at the University of Nairobi.
Nderui discovered there were numerous potato farmers who had missed to get potato seeds and were on the waiting list.
That time, he had made an order for certified seeds from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and was told to wait for six months.
“I could not wait for that long so I went to the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) where I was told to wait until the next planting season. I was getting impatient and frustrated,” says James.
It was this frustration that triggered his ‘aha moment’ and he decided to try his hand in mass production of quality potato seeds.
In his research, Nderui came across the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) that is tasked with potato seeds production.
Upon visiting NCPK, he was directed to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) who are tasked with certification. Here, he was also taught two models of potato seed production.
“I learnt that I could get a basic seed from KALRO and do further multiplication. This was my first idea; but the seed was not available so I adopted the Apical cutting technology,” says Nderui.
Apical cutting technology
Nderui explains that apical cutting technology is a creative way of potato seed production where shoots from a potato tuber are transplanted to produce seeds of their own thus increasing production and quality.
“I started with 250 cuttings for trial and it gave me good returns and a few misses,” says Nderui.
Using the knowledge from the trial season, he was ready to do bulk production and got into business.
Nyandarua County Crop Officer Daniel Muchiri explains that apical cutting technology is a fast way of potato seed multiplication.
Multiplication through this method involves producer planting a mother tuber and out of the shoots that sprout from the tuber, cuttings are made and developed to produce roots. Once they have the roots, the cuttings are deemed ready for transplanting for seed production.
“To produce apical cuttings, the farmer must have the necessary certification from Kephis or other certified bodies,” says Mr Muchiri.
He says there are reliable companies certified and registered to produce and supply potato seeds to farmers.
After getting certification from Kephis, now Nderui, has five acres under potato seeds, mostly the Shangi sub species and others like Wanjiku, Lenana and Unica.
Full of lessons
He says the journey has been full of lessons and the biggest challenge was getting certification from Kephis for seed production.
By attending trainings by KALRO and ADC, Nderui created rapport with Kephis.
He is now registered as a seed merchant.
“Kephis has already carried out a soil testing in my farm which I leased from a local land owner,” says Nderui.
Cost of production
The other hurdle he faces is high cost of production. He has hired the county potato value chain machinery to work on 15 acres to grow potato seeds. He says mechanised farming is cheaper than manual labour.
Occasionally, to reduce work load, he employs 10 people to help produce a minimum of 120 bags of 50kgs capacity per acre.
The workers also help in the propagation of the 16 tubers that are produced by each cutting that he gets at Sh10.
A 50kg bag of certified potato seeds goes for Sh3,000.
He targets to produce 15 tonne of potato seeds by end of this season to sell in the next planting season.
The farmer holds frequent field days in his farm and educates farmers on modern methods and new varieties of potatoes.
The young farmer has caught the eye of the county and they are keen on building his capacity.
Nyandarua County Agriculture executive James Karitu says there is a big gap in potato seed production. He is happy that Nderui’s effort in bridging the gap.
“The county government is interested in such ventures that improve the potato value chain. Seed production is relatively new in Nyandarua even though it is one of the main potato producer in Kenya,” says Mr Karitu.
He says the county government is ready to work with entreprises like Jaconta Farms Ltd in an effort to encourage more youth to take up such initiatives.