alexa Lab technologist finds wealth in seed potato - Daily Nation

Lab technologist finds wealth in seed potato

Saturday June 22 2019

Teresia Wanjiku holds a plastic tray containing potato seedlings in their enterprise in Nyandarua.

Teresia Wanjiku holds a plastic tray containing potato seedlings in their enterprise in Nyandarua. She says she went into seed potato production in 2017 after signing an agreement with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation in 2017, which allowed her to multiply their seeds. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA | NMG 

WAIKWA MAINA
By WAIKWA MAINA
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Standing inside a greenhouse on her farm in Ol Kalou, Teresia Wanjiku holds a plastic tray full of tiny green seedlings as she grins.

The plants are doing well, the reason behind her smile, as it is every farmer’s hope that things go on as planned.

“I am hoping to sell them in about a month’s time,” says the potato seed multiplier.

Teresia, who is a trained medical laboratory technologist, says she went into seed production in 2017 after signing an agreement with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation in 2017, which allowed her to multiply their seeds.

“It is mandatory for one to get permission from the breeders, who must also authorise the multiplier to market the generated seeds,” she offers, noting that all these require licences.

Further, one also needs licences and approval permits from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and the county government, with the licensing process costing her Sh100,000.

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She then invested in a greenhouse, setting up multiplication beds and materials at a cost of about Sh1 million.

“I had no capital myself, so I sold the idea to my mother who agreed to finance but on condition that we must be partners,” says Teresia, who started with 700 plants.

Her background in medical laboratory science has come in handy for the agripreneur.

“Seed multiplication has a lot to do with genetics and molecular biology. I studied genetics and molecular engineering, which is basically all about genes. The structures are different but the basics are the same,” says the farmer.

She has further attended farmers’ field days and trainings at Ol Joro Orok town organised by the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme.

“These trainings, which were one week short courses, made me realise that there was a gap in the potato value chain.

I realised there were so many potato producers, transporters and input sellers, but there was a gap in quality certified seeds," says Teresia, who holds a degree in laboratory science.

Inside her greenhouse, she does seed multiplication on eight beds, with each measuring five by one metre.

The beds host a capacity of 40 trays each, and a tray holds 380 seedlings.

GUARANTEE QUALITY, DISEASE-FREE PLANTING MATERIAL

“The multiplication process takes nine months before I sell to farmers,” says Teresia, who has employed 23 workers, three of whom are regular.

Before getting into potatoes, she tried formal employment and self-employment, opening a lab.

“I loved the lab business but felt the job was not giving me the opportunity to grow. My mother, who is an agricultural officer at the Nyandarua County government, assisted and guided me on best farming methods,” she recalls.

The farmer admits that though a rewarding venture, seed multiplication is not a walk in the park.

“People would love to be in seed multiplication but it’s a tough journey, with a lot of dos and don'ts, strict bureaucracy and high capital investment. Getting an agreement with the breeders, who own the rights, is a tough journey,” says the farmer, who produces Shangi, Panamera and Unica potato varieties.

Besides selling seedlings at Sh10 each, the farm also trains college students. Recently, they trained a team from National Industrial Training Association at a cost of Sh7,000 per student per month.

Her mother, Mary says, they have struggled to operationalise the project.

“Our main challenge at first was accessing the invitros for planting and getting the potato growers to learn about the technology,” says Ms Muigai.

They sell the certified potato seeds developed on the farm at Sh60 per kilo, a farmer will require 20 bags each weighing 50kg to plant on an acre.

Nyandarua agriculture chief officer Daniel Gikaara says certified seeds produce between 10 and 16 tonnes of potato per acre if grown in ideal conditions that include good rains, correct use of fertiliser and control of pests and diseases.

“We have an acute shortage of certified seeds. The maximum we have ever planted in Nyandarua is 5 per cent with 95 per cent of seeds used being those recycled, resulting in poor yields and high disease preference.”

Dr Gikaara says seed multiplication is a lengthy process, but a necessary one to guarantee farmers of quality disease-free planting materials.

According to him, a single seedling of the certified potato seed can produce an average of 25 potatoes, compared to those recycled that offer five to eight tubers.