In a bid to improve food security, Bayer E. Africa and TingA, East Africa’s largest network of tractors and equipment, among other organizations have partnered to empower smallholder farmers through potato farming in a project dubbed the Better Life Project. The project that is now changing the farmers’ lives in various counties kicked off in Meru in 2017.
“Mechanizing potato farming operations has helped reduce the cost of production and post-harvest losses. Using a potato harvester greatly reduces post-harvest loss because all the tubers are removed from the soil and there is minimal cutting and damaging of tubers. When you go to the market you will see so many potatoes that have been spoiled due to the poor methods of harvesting. With this project we have seen losses arising to such evaded easily,” said Eng. Titus Musyoka, Tinga Manager.
Through Better Life Project, harvests have improved as the farmers are using certified seeds. In the grand deal, Bayer provides crop protection chemicals to ensure that potatoes are not infested with diseases.
“We have been able to provide farmers with the right fertilizer that is suitable to the soils in specific areas. Before we recommend a specific fertilizer we have to test the soil to ascertain the appropriate fertilizer for the soil to avoid soil acidity or poisoning. We then translate the results of soil testing by KEPHIS to farmers to ensure that the farmers understand the implication of the tests to soil fertility. We are working with Bayer, Tinga among other partners to help the farmers produce more. We are not just here to sale fertilizers but to ensure that farmers use appropriate fertilizer that is appropriate with the soil,” said Vitalis Wafula, the Yara Regional Manager.
While farming potatoes, proper land preparation is key. The soil needs to be conditioned and free of weeds. With ordinary farming methods preparing one acre of potato farm takes four days while with mechanized services it only takes at least 4 hours. This is besides other additional costs that might arise due to long hours of operations such as the cost of feeding the workers. When using machinery the farmers are able to save more. A set of potato machinery constitutes the tractor, fertilizer spreader, the bedder-ridger, planter, hiller-weeder, sprayer and the windrow-harvester. This partnership has introduced potato mechanization services for farmers as a solution to the challenges arising from conventional farming.
Good harvests don’t just come. It takes proper planning to produce proper farm performance. In this arrangement, TingA chisel ploughs the fields to acceptable soil depths levels, harrows and then ridges fields using the correct spacing to ensure maximum productivity. In the same arrangement, the East Africa’s largest fleet of tractors and equipment harvests the planted potatoes within two weeks following dehaulming.
“Since we partnered with TingA, Quipbank’s limited project, in 2017, we have witnessed the lives of farmers being transformed. The production has increased by 200% and farmers don’t have to struggle selling their potatoes after harvest since one of the partners in this project, Sereni Fries Limited, buys the potatoes all the farmers in the project harvest. With these arrangements farmers don’t have to rely on brokers to reach the consumers,” said Diana Gitonga, Bayer’s Smallholder Farming Manager.
Amos Ngugi, one of the farmers in Nanyuki said that, Bayer, TingA and partners other have been sourcing for the certified seeds and giving it to them hence improved production.
“They have been actually guiding us through the entire potato production cycle by ensuring that we abide by the planting, weeding, spraying, fertilizer application, earthing up and all related activities including harvesting and selling of the harvests. They even visit the farms to inspect and approve the seeds before we plant. They have really helped us. I wish they came earlier to our help. We could have avoided the losses we have made over the years. They also bring agronomists on the farms to help us better our farm input. I used to harvest 15 to 30 bags of 100Kgs before they partnered with us nowadays I produce 70-100 bags per acre. Biashara imekuwa mzuri sana (business has been good),” said Ngugi in his farm in Nanyuki.
She added, “the farmers don’t have to worry about transportation after harvest since that is taken care of. We noted that most farmers struggle hauling their farm produce to the market and in the process most of the produce gets spoilt between the farm and the market. With this arrangement this has now become a thing of the past.”
The partners (Bayer, Tinga, Yara, Siraji SACCO and Farmer Centre Limited) have been sensitizing and training farmers on modern potato farming technique. They work with farmers associations which help them to bring together the farmers. The five institutions through project in Meru County, Laikipia and now Narok among other places has changed the way potato farming is done in Kenya. They have trained potato farmers on best agricultural practices and educated them on the need to use certified potato seed.
The project has been implemented in other counties including Laikipia and it is now moving to Narok County.
“Initially we were not able to farm big portion of land due to lack of finances but since Bayer and TingA came on board we have been able to farm more since they provide with us capital from the beginning of land preparation to the end of harvest. They even carry for us the potato and put in the buyers lorries. We smile all the way to the bank after this,” he added.
According to Eng. Musyoka, use of modern technology will help Kenyan farmers produce up to five times what they produce today per acre. This would better the living standards of the farmers, help the country achieve food security and reduce reliance on maize.
At the moment potato is the third most popular food in Kenya besides maize and banana. With the increase in population and shortage of maize in Kenya, citizens are turning to potatoes as alternative food. Farmers are turning to mechanization to meet the rising demand for potatoes by improving cultivation and reducing harvest losses.
TINGA, East Africa’s largest network of tractors and equipment, is a community mechanization concept that enables farmers to jointly access farm equipment such as tractors, plows, planters, combine harvesters, sprayers among others. Farmers come together either as an NGO, SACCO, Church, Co-operative society or Chama and Tinga provides equipment for farming use at the community level. Farmers can access farm mechanization services through an SMS and mobile based application from which they can choose a host of services ranging from Chisel Ploughing to Harvesting.
About Bayer East Africa
Bayer East Africa Ltd. is a subsidiary of Bayer AG, a global innovation enterprise with core competencies in the Life Science fields of agriculture and health care. Bayer AG has a base and registration in Germany with the global headquarters in Leverkusen. As an innovation company, it sets trends in research-intensive areas. Bayer East Africa Ltd. is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya where its operations were founded back in 1968.