It is a sunny, windy morning at Muchorue in Nakuru’s Molo sub-county. On the Molo-Olenguruone Road, you need not enquire much for directions to Mr Simon Mbugua’s potato farm.
Just ask for “kwa Wa Mbugua wa mbegu” … and you will be directed to his expansive land seven kilometres from Keringet town.
You will need to turn left, a few kilometres from Muchorue town, and drive for about 200 metres. Pose briefly to admire healthy potato crops on your right and left.
As we navigate the earth road to Mbugua’s farm, a cloud of dust threatens to envelope us.
The more than 10-acre farm is a hive of activity, with various agricultural ventures that are accommodated there neatly vying to catch visitors’ eyes.
We find Mr Mbugua’s wife, Ann, in a three-acre potato farm this Thursday morning. Dressed in a blue and white dress, a matching shawl and gumboots, she takes us round the farm.
She is one of many people in the area who heavily depend on potato farming. The Mbuguas are also certified potato seeds producers, a venture they started in 2005.
The crop is the mainstay of farmers in the region. The harvest is usually abundant most of the seasons due to good climate and fertile soil. However, like many other potato farmers , Mrs Mbugua is a disturbed farmer.
Potato farmers in Nakuru, Nyandarua, Bomet, Narok, Kericho and other parts of the Rift Valley are yet to recover from losses incurred between April and August this year following heavy rains.
She expresses fear that more rainfall expected between October and December, according to the weatherman, could cause them more losses. “Germination of potatoes was very poor because there was too much water in the soil. This heavily affected production,” reveals Mrs Mbugua.
To make matters worse, farmers had to grapple with exploitation by middlemen, lack of storage facilities, existence of uncertified seeds in the market, lack of value addition projects and poor infrastructure, which led to huge losses.
In Nakuru, Nyandarua, Bomet and Narok, despite rules requiring that potatoes be packed in 50kg bags, farmers are still being exploited by middlemen to pack in 100-180kg bags for almost the same price as the 50kg bag.
Mrs Mbugua adds that farmers do not have access to certified seeds to boost potato yields.
About two kilometres away, we meet farmer James Rotich inspecting his four-acre potato field. He says cartels have been forcing them to pack potatoes in 100-180kg bags, only to sell the produce per kilogramme in retail markets. Such bags, the Nation learnt, sell at between Sh5,000 and Sh6,500.
“Without these people you cannot access the market. They have tentacles spreading as far away as Nairobi and other key towns. They get a percentage of potato sales,” said Mr Rotich.
Five years ago, the Nakuru County Assembly passed a law requiring potatoes to be packed in 50kg bags. Then Governor Kinuthia Mbugua signed the law in June 2014 to help reduce exploitation of farmers by middlemen.
But a spot check at Molo market revealed that cartels were insisting that farmers pack potatoes in 100-180kg bags.
Farmers from other potato growing areas in the Rift Valley face the same plight.