Joseph Nyaisawa is a big sweet potato farmer in Nyamtiro village in Kuria East, Migori County.
Nyaisawa has been growing the crop since 2010, having shifted from tobacco due to dwindling returns.
The 32-year-old grows the crop on his four acres and has further leased an acre-and-a-half from friends to grow the crop.
“On average I harvest close to 200 120kg bags of sweet potatoes from all the farms,” says Nyaisawa.
However, despite the good harvest, Nyaisawa, and other farmers growing the crop in the region, is an embodiment of how poor market can make a farmer slave.
“I sell each bag at Sh400 or Sh500 making a profit of about Sh60,000 in a season. I grow the crop thrice a year,” says the farmer, whose hard work is evident, but he has nothing to show for it.
He normally sells the produce to traders who pick it from the farm and transports to Nairobi, Homa Bay and other neighbouring counties.
At Wakulima market, the traders sell the same bag for up to Sh3,500, with the retailers selling three potatoes at Sh50.
“My main challenge is market. These traders are making huge profits from us yet we do the donkey-work. An extended sack weighing about 120kg goes for over Sh3,000 in Nairobi yet the brokers buy from us for a song. If only I could get market.”
Job Maguncho, from Ikerege in Kuria West, and Benson Riro Nyamohanga, from Kegonga, are in a similar predicament, having grown the crop for several years.
Like Nyaisawa, they sell their produce to traders from Nairoibi but they have nothing to show for it.
“We are growing the crop because there is no better alternative. We slave but it is other people who reap,” they say.
The farmers’ consolation, however, is that the crop is hardy, thus, requiring minimal management that does not include use of fertiliser and pesticides.
To grow the crop, he tills the land ensuring it is weed-free and applies farm yard manure to boost growth and makes beds where he will place the vines.
“I grow the crop from overgrown vines that I harvest from mature sweet potatoes. I have set aside a piece of land where I grow the crop specifically for providing seeds. The crops mature in about four months,’’ says Nyaisawa. Despite the poor prices, the farmers have vowed not abandon the crop.
“I have learnt that the only way to cushion myself from poor prices is to grow the crop on large-scale. I am planning to expand the venture by leasing eight more acres to grow the crop,” he offers.
The farmers ask the county government to cushion them from poor prices.
“We should sell an extended bag for at least Sh1,000.” Iscah Oluoch- Owino, the Executive for Agriculture in Migori County, says there is hope for farmers as companies adding value to the produce by making flour among other produce are setting shop in the region.
Owino says that the county government is doing all it can to cushion the farmers from the low prices. “We are currently engaging potential investors to set up a processing company in Migori so that the farmers can sell their produce directly to them.”