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Govt challenged to enforce potato law

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 27 – Potato farmers have appealed to the government to enforce a law that provides for potatoes to be sold in 110-kilogram bags.

Kenya National Potato Farmers Association Chairman Patrick Njogu said the standardisation of the potatoes’ packaging materials would reduce the exploitation of farmers and ensure that they realise profits.

“Packing potatoes in 110kg bags will automatically mean that the farmer will earn more, because in an acre, the production will be more than a 100 bags,” he argued and claimed that the current extended bag weighs 280kg.

The legal notice No 44 of 2005 was formulated four years ago, through a wide consultative process involving key players in the Agriculture Ministry.

In Kenya, the potato is the second most important crop after maize, while it is ranked fourth in the world as a source of food after maize, rice and wheat. 

Mr Njogu said that in 2008, the government through the local authorities agreed to write an adoptive by-law stipulating that no market would accommodate any extended bags. This law, he complained, had not been effected either.

The notice states, ‘no person shall offer any agricultural products for sale to the public by use of an extended bag or package in any city, municipal council or urban market.’

Mr Njogu warned that the government’s laxity in implementing the law, which is against the principles of fair trade, has forced many farmers to abandon potato production which if unchecked could contribute to food insecurity in the country.

“Potato production takes place in the highlands where maize does not do well. This crop can help reduce the effects of famine at a time when the country is facing such a huge food crisis,” he said.

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Over half a million farmers are involved in the production of the crop and depend on it for food and cash. It is estimated that about 100,000 hectares are planted annually with a yield of over a million metric tons worth Sh5 billion at farm gate, and Sh10 billion at the consumer level.

Also disgruntled are the cotton farmers who have urged the government to stabilise the prices of the crop.

They faulted the government’s move to put a cap on the buying price, saying it makes them unproductive.

Currently, Kenya produces 45,000 bails of cotton per year although it has the potential to grow 260,000 bails.

Cotton farming almost collapsed in 1991 following the liberalisation of the sector. The near collapse of the industry was largely blamed on the lack of development of the hybrid seeds, which forced the farmers to recycle seeds, resulting in low yields.

In 2008, the government committed Sh60 million for six thousand tons of seeds required by cotton farmers. It has also pledged to spend more this year in a bid to boost production.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto has also announced the ministry’s intention to fast-track the policy paper on the cotton industry in Parliament, to overhaul the entire management and development of cotton in the country.

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