A new pest has invaded potato growing zones in Nyeri County, resulting in low production of the crop and huge losses to farmers.
Tuta absoluta is a leaf-consuming moth that attacks potatoes and tomatoes.
The pest is cutting the production of potatoes in the county by 50 per cent.
The county normally produces one million bags of potatoes per year.
Typical symptoms of Tuta absoluta on crops are puncture marks, abnormal shapes, holes and rotting due to secondary infective agents.
Potato growing areas in Nyeri County are Kieni, Narumoru, Gakawa, Nyandarua and Endarasha.
According to Mr John Wambugu, an agronomist at Wambugu Farm, the pest is difficult to control since it can remain in the soil for more than three decades.
Mr Wambugu said the uncontrolled selling of seed potato is to blame for the rampant spread of the pest.
“A significant number of farmers from Nyandarua County sell seed potato to their counterparts in other parts of the country, accelerating the spread of the pest to other areas,” he said.
Mr Wambugu said so far there is no pesticide known to control the pest.
LAND FRAGMENTATION IS MAJOR SETBACK
He said land fragmentation has been cited as a major setback in efforts to control the pest since farmers cannot practise crop rotation as required.
The country currently imports seed potato from The Netherlands.
According to the National Potato Council of Kenya website, production of the crop in the country is currently worth Sh50 billion.
Farmers have blamed the Agriculture ministry for a decline in output, saying they face fertiliser shortages and delays in the supply of the output.
“We do not get enough fertiliser. When we do, they deliver it late, when we have already planted the crop,” said Mr Rinyiru Marete, a potato farmer.
Mr Marete, who is also the Naromoru Ward rep, said the packaging standard passed by Parliament is being flouted, with farmers still being exploited by middlemen who are buying the crop in bigger sacks.
“The law says potatoes should be sold in a 90-kilogramme sack for Sh2,000, but middlemen are packaging the produce in a 150-kilogramme bag,” he said.
Ministry asked to help farmers
Mr John Wambugu, an agronomist, urged the Agriculture ministry to help farmers with certified seed.
He also asked the ministry to provide farmers with enough subsidised fertiliser and pesticides.