Mechanization improves potato production in Kenya
Christopher Gasperi, Ashley Gasperi (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Brendan Ireland, FreshCrop Limited
Shadrack Nyawade, International Potato Center (CIP)
Oscar Nzoka, Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) Netherlands Development Organization (SNV)
In Kenya, national certified potato seed production currently meets less than 5% of acreage needs. Limited availability of affordable, certified seed is considered a key impediment to growth in the potato sector. The International Potato Center (CIP) estimates that bacterial wilt spread through poor seed can result in 30% losses in yield. In addition, climate change (especially erratic rains and degenerated soil) in the key potato-growing agro-ecological zones leads to significant fluctuations in availability of table potatoes. Emerging technology in seed multiplication, a focus on sound soil and water management, optimal fertilizer use, varietal selection for pest and disease tolerance and improved post-harvest handling measures, could increase and stabilize potato productivity. To meet the government and buyer demand for high quality seed potatoes, Kenya needs farmers in large-scale production. Mechanization is necessary to make this possible.
FreshCrop Ltd. is a potato seed production company adding value along multiple parts of the potato production value chain, including the adoption of apical root cuttings to rapidly multiply high-grade potato seed. FreshCrop was able to scale up from 20 hectares of certified seed annually in 2021 to almost 500 ha of certified seed annually in 2023. The rapid expansion of mechanized planting and harvesting has made this possible.
At the World Potato Congress (WPC) in Dublin in 2022 the following partners were enlisted in our program: Grimme sold us a ridger which assisted us to incorporate mechanical weeding and larger ridge formation into our process, increasing our marketable yields. Standen introduced FreshCrop to an appropriate potato harvester with dirt and debris elimination which loads directly into bulk wagons beside the harvester in the field. This unit was purchased and is now in operation. Dewolf’s dealer in Africa is in ongoing conversation with FreshCrop about appropriate equipment.
Mechanization partners not related to WPC: Ndume engineered, designed and manufactured our first two-row planter, then helped design and manufacture our four-row planter. Alper & Azbil designed an appropriate potato digger, built in Turkey, that is now used on the FreshCrop farm.
Financial partners: Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT/SNV) provided a matching grant that enabled us to put funds towards purchasing our first planter and harvester. Local Banks have enabled us to expand our mechanization through access to financing.
Thanks to mechanization, we have increased our capacity:
Planting: We are now able to plant 10 ha in a day with 20 laborers (manually planting we reached a maximum of 1.2 ha a day with 60 laborers).
Ridging: We have seen a roughly 10% increase in production related to proper ridging which allows for moisture retention, increased tuber initiation and room for growth.
Harvest: We now harvest 8 ha/day (4 ha/day with the Standen and 4 ha/day with the pick and drops) as opposed to when we were manually harvesting a maximum of 2 ha/day with 150 laborers (data on casual labor above this is not available). This is a reduction from 75 laborers per ha/day with manual harvesting to 15 laborers per ha/day with the mechanized harvesting. This has resulted in a 5-10% increase in potatoes lifted out of the ground/unit area. We are able to expand production, decrease our costs and decrease our post-harvest losses. Also noteworthy is a 20% decrease in damaged potatoes (less cuts) as compared to manual harvest.
Sorting: Mechanized sorting increases our time efficiency as well as a cost savings of 40%. It also increases our quality of grading.
Sharing our knowledge
Train the Trainer (ToT) model of FreshCrop has provided climate smart potato production training and certified seeds to our network of 6,000+ farmers. This training is provided by lead farmers who train their farmers’ groups via demo sites planted with FreshCrop certified seeds and agrochemical programs. FreshCrop, in partnership with CRAFT/SNV, established over 130 demo sites across nine potato growing regions for trainings and access to quality inputs.
FreshCrop hosts international visitors from around the world who are interested in seeing potato production in Kenya. Many visitors are from countries interested in starting their own certified seed and potato production. CIP has been instrumental in connecting these visitors with FreshCrop. We have hosted delegations from Cameroon, Morocco, Germany, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Yemen, Comoros and more.
Large potato field day brings together over 40 stakeholders in the potato value chain. Along with FreshCrop, the stakeholders showcase seeds of different varieties, various agrochemical and fertilizer regimens, and mechanization. It’s a great day of learning and builds linkages to input suppliers and markets in the industry. Last year’s event was attended by 2,500 farmers and this year’s was attended by 5,000 farmers.
FreshCrop Ltd. has learned that adopting a step-wise approach to mechanization has led to greater adoption and use of the equipment rather than trying to adopt mechanization all at once.
Training staff in preventative maintenance of equipment helps avoid breakdown and expensive repairs.
Utilizing equipment suited for the environment, topography and farm size is key to have a successful adoption of new potato equipment.
Locally available repair and availability of replacement parts is imperative for successful and efficient use of purchased equipment.
Financing for appropriate equipment is not easily obtained. Showing a good economic analysis of the cost benefit ratio is important for financing.
It is crucial to work within the social context of the community and not eliminate casual labor jobs that have been a pillar for employment. This is another reason we use a stepwise approach to introducing mechanization and keep good relations with the community. Mechanization is allowing us to expand production without eliminating our labor force – instead we are able to re-purpose roles as we continue to expand.