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Kisima Farms: A Large Farm Supporting Local Communities

Contributed by Dr. Berga Lemaga of the International Potato Center

1. Collaboration between local operators/partnerships/financing

In each Sub-Saharan African (SSA) country, there is a potato research and development that involves many actors (partners) ranging from input suppliers to consumers. There is, however, a disconnect between these partners, leading to duplication of efforts and hence waste of meagre resources which hinders the potato value chain from becoming strong and sustainable. Research is mainly conducted at the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) that include research centers, domestic and foreign universities and sometimes private partners in collaboration with international partners such as the International Potato Center (CIP) and research organizations. There is little involvement of local partners such as farmers, extension experts and consumers in research, for example, in varietal selection and agronomic package development, except at highly advanced stages just before the release of varieties. At this advanced stage, germplasm that may perform well in some environments and may be preferred by farmers is dropped throughout the selection process and lost forever. Even though extension is not part of the research in the technology generation process, it becomes a major player for dissemination of technologies. This slows down both dissemination and rate of adoption of technologies by end users.

Limited budget negatively affects rates of generating technologies, multiplication of released technologies, dissemination as well as adoption rates of technologies. Our experience shows that technologies are not adequately demonstrated in various agro-ecologies in a participatory manner, mainly due to limited funds and human resources. As a result, technology uptake rates are slow after their release. Moreover, due to little involvement of the private sector, the pace of technology multiplication does not match the demand for technologies. Good examples are critical shortage of clean seed of productive and adapted CIPbred varietiesthat have been released in many sub-Sahara African countries and high costs of seed potato because of its limited availability. In most of these countries, the private sector is not interested in potato production (seed and ware) because of the high production cost of seed, and the perishability and bulkiness nature of the crop. There are a few exceptions to this, for example, Kisima Farm Ltd (see below under quality planting material) produces seed potato on about 100 ha/season (200 ha/year) from clean in vitro plantlets it buys from Genetic Technologies International Limited (GTIL) and Stokmen Rozen, both are private companies that produce in-vitro plantlets by order. Clean mother plants for in-vitro plantlets are mostly supplied by CIP to these private multipliers. In Ethiopia, there is Solagrow (a Dutch company) that produces seed potato. This company is also mechanized and has its own TC laboratory, enabling it to produce clean early generation seed, but it met a major setback when some of its farms were destroyed during public unrest that erupted in 2016 in some parts of the country, where most of Solagrow farms are located.

Seed potato harvest at Kisima Farms

There is a great need to have more of such successful commercial farmsthat produce seed and ware potatoes to have a viable potato industry. However, government policies in most SSA countries do not encourage potato production, which negatively affects availability of supplies such as quality seed, fertilizers and pesticides. This trend, we believe will change going forward because the dwindling arable land due to growing population will force governments and farmers to resort to crops that give more food per area, time and other inputs, of which potato is one.

An effective partnership in the input supply to consumption continuum would result in improvement of cash availability, research results, dissemination and adoption of technologies leading to higher productivity. Increased productivity coupled with improved market access will result in improved food and nutrition security. Effective partnership also enhances capacity building of actors at several levels, enabling the establishment of an effective potato value chain.

Community Potato Storage shared by local farmers receiving seed potatoes from Kisima farms

Kisima Farm is a privately owned mixed farm located in Meru County, Buuri Sub-county, Eastern part of Kenya. It has a long history for producing cereals such as wheat and barley, flowers, oil crops and pulses. Income from such activities served as a source of cash for the recently started seed potato production, for which it is now a number one leader. Kisima produces seed potato on about 200 ha annually in two seasons (100 ha/season). It started producing seed potatoes in 2008/2009 in collaboration with CIP-led and initially USAID- funded, but later also GIZ-funded 3G project on Community Potato Storage shared by local farmers receiving seed potatoes from Kisima farms Page 3 only 8 ha. Kisima employs the CIP-promoted 3G techniques to rapidly multiply clean seed using aeroponics.

The company also collaborates with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) of the National Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KARLO) to get its seed potato certified, which is then sold to other seed producers in the different regions. Kisima has partnered with Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) to supply certified potato seed to small scale seed producers in Meru since 2011. The effort later benefited from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund as well. In addition to supplying quality seed potatoes that increase yields of smallholder farmers by 60% and creating employment, the Kisima foundation benefits the community in its area of operation in several ways, including promotion of education, healthcare, water development, agricultural extension, and environmental sustainability.

2. Quality & healthy planting material

Critical shortage of quality seed of productive and adaptive varietiesis probably the major constraint to potato production in SSA countries. The yield and quality of potato produced is dependent on the quality of seed potato planted. Most smallholder farmers in SSA recycle seed potatoes for several seasons, resulting in low yields of inferior quality due to seed degeneration, which is caused by seedborne diseases. It is also known that many smallholder farmers save from their harvests small tubers which they cannot sell as seed increasing the probability of virus infection, including very important yield reducing viruses: potato leaf roll virus (PLRV) and potato virus Y (PVY). Still worse is that there are farmers who use for seed ware potato they buy from unknown sources increasing the chances of not only spreading viruses, but also bacterial wilt (BW) dissemination caused by Ralstonia solanacearum, among several other seed-borne diseases that are known to reduce yield.

Being aware of this very dangerous trend, CIP, public research organizations, commercial farmers, NGOs and the private sector have supported the production of better quality seed through formal, intermediate (also called alternative) and informal seed systems. The formal seed system, which follows strict production and seed certification procedures, is a most sure way to produce quality seed. The strictest seed potato certification is practiced in Kenya by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) with a significant support by CIP. However, the formal seed covers only less than 5% of potato seed requirements in most successful countries like Kenya and remains less than 3% in most SSA countries. This system produces expensive seed that farmers cannot easily afford, and production is limited to only a few locations increasing transportation costs to reach the farmers. This coupled with small quantity it produces does not make it an effective problem solver but a foundation for subsequent systems. The alternative or intermediate system has both the formal and informal components and is produced closer to farmers. This system mostly follows a quality declared seed (QDS) production system (promoted by CIP and respective governments) following certain criteria, which may vary among countries. In Ethiopia, while it is less strict than the formal with regards to virus infection and purity, it has zero tolerance to BW, as it is the most devastating disease of the potato in the country. Kenya also has zero tolerance to BW. This kind of seed is produced by trained commercial farmers, cooperatives and some advanced smallholder farmers. These producers get basic seed from research centers (formal system), whose clean seed producing capacity has been greatly strengthened by CIP and further bulk the seed to get quantities under QDS regulations. The seed they produce is inspected by government inspectors, for example, Page 4 in Ethiopia both in the field and in the store (diffused light store, DLS). This seed can be infected with BW in the process of QDS production if the soil is infested with the bacterium. Unfortunately, this cannot be easily detected by inspectors because they conduct only visual inspection.

To put a strong quality seed production system in place to improve the performance of the three systems discussed above, availability of clean early generation seed potato is a prerequisite. Supported by CIP, most countries in SSA, among others, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have basic infrastructure, including tissue culture laboratories, aeroponics and screen houses where clean minitubers are being produced from in-vitro plantlets. In some of these countries, aeroponics units have not been efficiently utilized due to power outage and scarcity of nutrients. Moreover, it is important to note that there is a possibility of disseminating BW with early generation seed because testing for BW at every stage of early generation seed production starting from minitubers is not strictly implemented. Some studies have shown that BW has been disseminated to non-traditional highland areas with seed movement probably from research centers.

Despite all this, some trends in relation to quality seed production are encouraging, for example, Kisima farm produces about 200 ha of seed potato per year that is officially certified as clean. In Ethiopia, many cooperatives and some commercial farmers also produce QDS that has acceptable quality, which is a step in the right direction. Any support accorded to the production of quality seed to sell to potato producers in SSA will contribute to the transformation of the potato industry, enabling it to significantly contribute to household food security and income and to the macroeconomy of respective countries.

Kisima Farm is the largest certified seed potato producer in Kenya supplying about 75% of the total certified seed potato that is available in the country. It produces seed potato for farmers preferred varieties that are mainly KALRO/CIP bred and some HZPC varieties based on demand. Annually, it produces over 4000 MT of potatoes of which 75% is qualified as seed with a tuber size of 28-45 mm (size 1), and, 45-60mm (size 2). To ensure that the seed potato it produces is clean, it starts from invitro plantlets that it procures from GTIL and Stokmen Rozen and grows in aeroponics to produce minitubers that are later bulked to quantity in clean soil.

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