Showcasing the potential of a mechanised potato value chain
More than 30% of potatoes in Kenya are grown in Nyandarua county. Farmers in the county are struggling to increase their productivity due to a lack of labour. Mechanising the cultivation of potatoes could be a potential solution to this problem. SNV and Agrimech, an agriculture mechanisation company, in collaboration with the Nyandarua county government are developing a business case for the mechanisation of the local potato value chain. The demonstration field days realised throughout the last two years are part of this intervention.
The demonstration day was attended by more than 300 farmers. They were able to witness the mechanised operations of a chisel plow, a rotary hiller, a potato planter, a harvester, and a cutter. Attendees saw in real-time how time-efficient these machines are, and the benefits they can bring. Representatives from the county and agricultural mechanisation services (AMS) were also present to answer questions that arose with farmers after viewing the demonstration. “These demos have been extremely useful,” said Kariuki Njunge, AMS at Kinangop Station. “Farmers learn something new every time, and we usually get petitions for the services.
Why mechanise the potato value chain?
Farmers growing potatoes often face high levels of post-harvest losses, and a lack of manual labour at key moments in the growing and production cycle (e.g. during harvesting). Mechanising the initial links of the value chain can provide potential solutions to these two problems.
More and more farmers are becoming aware of the potential of mechanised production. Human labour can be replaced if needed, and significant benefits can be reaped. Some of these are increased efficiency, reduced post-harvest losses, reduced labour time, and lower operating costs. As an example, a harvester can do in four hours,what 15 people would do in three days, greatly reducing the need for labour. “We are seeing a change nowadays,” said Mr. Njunge. “More and more rural labourers are going away from agriculture, into other ventures in the city.”
Challenges to mechanise the value chain
Financing is the biggest challenge for smallholder farmers to transition to mechanised production as financial institutions are hesitant to provide funding to smallholder farmers to rent the machines from the county government (which owns them). Viable finance business models that support leasing mechanised services and collaborating strong private sector partners in the mechanisation space have not yet materialised. This hampers the development and scaling of the Agrimech business case.“The institutions are there,” mentioned Betty Musembi, HortIMPACT advisor. “But it’s hard to show that loans can be paid back. There is little data to prove how fast and efficiently loans can be paid back.”
Once a scalable and sustainable business model is developed for this business case, HortIMPACT will continue to support Agrimech in awareness creation amongst potato farmers. Organising demonstrations with potato farmers was a key element to disseminate knowledge about mechanised agricultural techniques. “We're promoting mechanisation” mentioned Chairty Maina, representative of the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK). “The benefits are clearly showcased today.”
Changing the mind-set of farmers is another challenge. Farmers have done harvesting, plotting and seeding cycles through traditional methods for generations. Introducing new technologies can prove rather difficult. “Less and less people in this county are farmers. We need to rethink how labour in the field is approached,” said Mr. Njunge. “Nobody should die of hunger in Kenya, mechanising the production of crops like potato can help prevent that.”