The Embassy of Ireland and Nyandarua County Government have joined hands to better the fortunes of farmers in an initiative dubbed ‘Potato Sector Capacity Building Project’ where farmers will this month receive three varieties of potato seeds imported from Ireland.
The high performing and early bulking potato varieties are expected to double farmers’ yields.
While speaking at Shamata Ward in Ndaragwa Constituency during the graduation of farmers trained under Potato Value Chain Capacity Building Programme, project director at International Fertiliser Development Centre Patrick Boro said, the varieties will be a blessing to farmers.
“They are short-season varieties that will be in the market within 90 days making them a better choice for farmers who want to have three seasons annually. They also have a short dormancy period,” said Mr Boro.
Mr. Boro said unlike Kenya’s varieties which have been grown over a very long period of time and have since degenerated to a big extent because of cross-breeding or other factors caused by farming systems, the Irish varieties average production per hectare will range from season to season, but with a capacity to produce 120 tonnes per hectare.
Nyandarua County agriculture executive Dr James Karitu added that the varieties’ seed importation programme is aimed at increasing farmer access to best quality seed and certified planting materials.
“The imported Irish varieties are high yielding varieties. They will perform better than the local varieties we have; first of all because of the research that has been done over many years shows that those varieties have been able to do very well in climatic regions in Ireland that is similar to conditions in Kenya,” said Dr Karitu.
The three Irish varieties are namely; Fandango, Tornado and Imagine varieties and whose planting materials are already in the country and under propagation at a farm in Timau, under the supervision of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Kelvin Food Industries Kenya Limited, among other players in the potato industry.
The varieties were imported not as tubers, but as so-called "High-Status Material" which are good for multiplication without importing diseases through the seeds and also to meet the high standards set by Kephis.
The seeds will be introduced to 3,000 small-holder farmers for seed multiplication, under restricted trials conforming to Kephis requirements before the programme is extended to other potato growing counties.
While Ireland is not a very big potato producer, the country holds a special place in the heart of potato lovers. The Irish were the first to give the práta (potato) a truly warm welcome to Europe in the early 17th century, and the tuber has been an intimate part of the country's history ever since.
Today more potatoes are still eaten in Ireland than in most other countries of the world. In 2007, Ireland's 830 potato farmers produced an estimated 455 000 tonnes of potatoes, 85 percent being ware potatoes for consumption, and the rest seed potato for replanting, according to the International Year of the Potato.