Where do your home fries, chips, french fries and mashed potatoes originate? You have probably never seen a packet of potato seeds for sale in supermarkets because potatoes do not grow true to seed, like apples, they propagate vegetatively.
Potatoes are one of the easiest and most productive backyard crops to grow. The downside however, potatoes are very susceptible to diseases. Farmers have to plant small sprouting potatoes or seed potatoes, in order to reproduce the specific varieties, they want.
However, as demand for potatoes increases, accessing certified seed potatoes in Kenya continues to be a big challenge, and the presence of low-quality seeds makes it even worse for most potato farmers.
It is with this need that Eugene Karagacha, a former engineer, downed his tools in the corporate world to venture into potato farming to ensure farmers have access to quality and certified potato seeds. His business, Space Agritech, serves the vast Nyandarua County which is renowned for potato farming.
“Seed potatoes are tubers that are specifically grown to be free from diseases, providing consistent and healthy yields when replanted. We use special pest management measures and inspection to ensure less exposure of the potatoes to diseases like blight,” said Mr. Karagacha.
Prone for warmer climates, Eugene explains that areas where potatoes are grown should be selected from locations with cold, harsh winters that kill pests and mold spore and warm summers with long sunshine hours and ample rainfall for optimal growth.
“We obtain apical cuttings from certified labs across the country, which we propagate on our farm and later sell the seed potatoes to the farmers,” he said.
“Certified seeds give better yield at 16 tonnes per acre as opposed to the conventional four to six tonnes per acre. Hence, one acre takes up 16 bags of certified seeds, but yields 160 as opposed to 60 ordinarily,” Eugene explained.
Eugene notes that for years, farmers in the area have made losses due to lack of quality seed potatoes and poor farm management. “Now, farmers who purchase the seed potatoes make greater yield and are able to get value for their energy, time and resources that went into planting compared to the conventional ones.”
Although the venture has put smiles on most potato farmers, the journey has not been without its share of challenges.
“For the first six months, we made no profit. The transition from the corporate world was not easy. After investing all my savings in the company, we made countless losses which forced us to get additional loans to recover, Eugene explains.
Eugene says it took patience to collaborate with farmers to get to where they are today.
“I am also grateful for the team at Kenya Climate Innovation Centre for helping me advance my business. I am humbled that they are taking this journey to improve on Kenya’s food security with me,” Eugene added.
While the technology of farming seed potatoes has visibly improved over the last century, so much about farming the humble seed potato remains the same. It offers a connection to the land, the dignity of a hard day’s work, at the end of the day, a delicious sustenance to help us persevere through the hard times.
Pass the ketchup!