Premier potato factory to up yields, generation of income

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021 00:00 |
Farmers harvest sweet potatoes. BELOW: Christine Mwita at her farm. Photo/Courtesy

A Sh100 million sweet potato factory is set to be built in Migori county.  It is expected to boost income and increase production for farmers who have over the years complained of exploitation by middlemen. 

The European Union has donated Sh100 million for the factory set to start working later this year.

Factory, one of a kind, is a legacy project, particularly in Kuria for Governor Okoth Obado.

It is, however, running behind schedule, a delay county officials attribute to inconveniences caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are almost there. We have tendered for machines and once the process is over and installation done, we will be good to go,” says Elijah Gambere, the Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries Chief Officer.

Other sweet potato value chain actors, who include producer organisations, vine multipliers, transporters, bankers, traders, aggregators and bakers are engaging in strategy meetings over the operationalisation of the factory. 

“We have to build the capacity of our key stakeholders in the value chain in readiness for the factory opening before the end of the year,” retired Chief Otaigo says. 

He is a sweet potato farmer and a member of the county’s sweet potato value chain stakeholder’s forum.

Medicinal bread

Furaha Marwa, who runs a bread baking cottage industry at Kehancha town said: “The factory will definitely give us enough puree and flour for baking bread.

In fact, we are delighted that our people will start to eat bread made of their own sweet potato, which is medicinal and from their own farms.” 

The factory is situated at Getonganya, in Kuria west sub-county. It is expected to process 100 tonnes of sweet potatoes daily. It was also expected to start operations between April and July 2020.

“Covid- 19 has really taken us back. Our people could be now enjoying the sweet and medicinal bread made from their own crop.

That notwithstanding, jobs, the good prices for their potato and the sumptuous business environment will be created,” says Obado. 

 The Migori County Government and EU, in 2018, signed an agreement under the auspices of Instruments For Devolution Advice and Support (IDEAS), Local Economic Development.

The county was to provide Sh10 million and ground implementation logistics while the EU granted Sh100 million for construction of factory structures, purchase of processing machines and capacity building of sweet potato value chain stakeholders.

Migori is listed as the second largest producer of Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) with 11,312 hectares under cultivation.

The neighbouring Homa Bay is the leading producer with area of 24,268 hectares under production of the OFSP. 

Other producing counties are Bungoma (7,480ha),  Busia (4,614ha), Siaya (4,150ha), Kisumu (2, 855ha), Kakamega (4277.5ha),

Narok (1658.4ha), Bomet (1,210ha), Vihiga (913ha), Machakos (1,973ha) and Meru (1,046ha).

Over the years, sweet potato production in Migori has been largely unattractive and on a small scale due to lack of market. Brokers had also taken advantage of lack of market to exploit the farmers.

“We have the capacity to surpass all other counties in sweet potato production but the problem has always been the market.

We are actually happy with Obado’s government for seeing it fit to build for us a factory.

We are optimistic that prices for our tubers will go up and the brokers menace will be a thing of the past,” said Christine Mwita, a large scale farmer of OFSP.

“Brokers are very exploitative; they reap from where they did not sow. Imagine, they give us as low as Sh1,500, for that long extended bag, which is about 250kg to 350kg,” she laments.

The unscrupulous middlemen have had a field day, offering between Sh1,500 to Sh2,500 per the extended bag depending on the season.

There is no organised local market and farmers have had to deal with the heartless brokers for years.

The crop, once bought, is transported to Nairobi’s Ukulima openair market where it is sold for a fortune.

In 2017, Kenya exported 39,662kg of OFSP compared to 81,431 in 2016. The biggest destination being Somalia, which absorbs over 80 per cent of the quantity exported.

Extended bag

Kenya’s OFSP also fetches market within the EU member countries of Norway, United Kingdom, France and Denmark. Other countries that also import sweet potato from Kenya include Seychelles, Djibouti and United Arab Emirates.

Due to the growing global demand for OFSP, which is classified as a nutritional crop, the Agriculture and Food Authority has embarked on regulating the industry.

“We are through with the gazettement of the crop laws that include sweet potato regulations and once officially launched, we will be able to step in and curb the broker menace,” said Beatrice Nyamwamu, AFA acting Director, in charge of Standards and Quality Assurance.

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