What it takes to breed potato seeds for sale

Friday November 20 2015

Amon Mghendi in his potato seedlings store in Werugha, Taita Taveta. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Amon Mghendi in his potato seedlings store in Werugha, Taita Taveta. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BOZO JENJE
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The slopes of Taita Hills in Werugha currently host French peas, cabbages, baby marrows (courgettes) and spinach as farmers seek to make hay while the sun shines during this El Nino rains period.

Our destination is Wanyumba Farm, where Amon Mghendi breeds Irish potatoes on the five acres.

Mghendi was trained as a small-scale Irish potato seed bulking farmer in 2009 by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), and since then, he had bred hundreds of seeds of the Asante variety.

The farmer went into potato farming after retiring as a teacher in 2005, his last posting being Maghimbinyi Primary School.

He now concentrates on potato growing, although he further grows maize and beans.

“When I got the opportunity to train as a potato breeder, I did not even think twice. I seized the chance to learn best agronomic practices, new technologies and the selection of seeds and storage,” Mghendi says.

After training, he invested Sh4,250 into the business, money that went into buying 50kg of seeds from Kalro-Tigoni, with each going for Sh60. The rest of the money went to transportation.

Mghendi explains that to produce the seeds, he uses a tractor to plough the land, and then digs furrows for planting.

During the planting, he mixes fertiliser with Black Magic, an organic chemical that prevents the soil from hardening.

He then selects quality seeds that are free of diseases for planting.

Then using a sprayer, the farmer applies Dudu Thrain along the furrows to prevent pests from attacking the seeds in the ground. For the prevention of potato blight that attacks the leaves, he applies Redomil Gold or Milraz.

As soon as the potato plant sprouts, he weeds for the first time to break the soil.

The seeds mature in two months. But two weeks before maturity, it is advisable that the stems are uprooted to harden the potatoes before harvesting.

“After uprooting, I put the seeds in buckets and sort them based on quality before storing in trays,” says the 65-year-old.

The seeds are further sprayed with acetic acid super powder to prevent pests from invading them for quality assurance purposes.

He sells the seeds to farmers in Taita County and beyond at Sh50 per kilo. He says there is high demand for seeds among farmers but supply from breeders is inadequate, therefore, a huge opportunity exists in the business.

So far this year, he has sold about 3,000kg of potato seeds earning him Sh150,000.

From the proceeds of his potato business, Mghendi last year built an agrovet shop and stocked it with fertiliser, chemicals, animal feeds and seeds at over Sh200,000, part of the money coming from his savings.

“I sensed there is need to have a one-stop centre for farmers to buy inputs to reduce the high costs incurred when they go to Wundanyi,” says Mghendi, who has also constructed a house and a posho mill from the potato business.

Eunice Mwadime, a Ministry of Agriculture officer in Taita, says for one to become a potato breeder, they should own between five to 10 acres that can be used for crop rotation.

“They should have a capital of at least Sh100,000. The farmer should also have knowledge from trained breeders at Kalro on seeds selection, diseases, and work closely with the agricultural officers and officers from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service for advise on the quality of the crops.”