Farmer clusters point potato farmers to stable markets

A farming model that places potato farmers in clusters to grow high quality potatoes which they sell to Nairobi processors is giving farmers guaranteed markets and tripling their yields at a time when potato prices have fluctuated due to glut.

The clusters, comprised of more than 800 farmers in the communities of Kibirechia, Timau and Kisima in Meru County, has been receiving technical backup and initial funding from the project but are expected to become financially independent by December 2014. A business support team contracted by 2SCALE works closely with the farmers, providing training and year-round monitoring of crop management, marketing and agribusiness management.  There is also training on fertilizer top-dressing, pesticide use, accounting and financial management.

2SCALE has brought together a range of partners to ensure that all requirements like market, seeds, fertilizer, extension, credit are in place. The partners include: Equity Bank, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), which provides crop insurance; training and extension experts; and seed, fertilizer and , agrochemical suppliers.

Meru is one of Kenya's largest potato production areas, with a strong and growing market. But currently it is traders, rather than farmers, who benefit most. In Meru County, the 2SCALE project is focusing on small-scale potato growers, who typically grow potatoes without irrigation on quarter to half hectare plots. The project aims at helping the farmers double their yields through improved production methods, and increase their incomes by one-third by linking them directly to an assured market.

Forming the clusters has assisted farmers overcome farming challenges like diseases, and markets. A cluster provides farmers a stable market and fairer prices.
A cluster also allows farmers to share transport, agro-input and other costs and more easily access career and information.  An ABC also guarantees the reliable, high-quality supplies year round.

Driving the development of the Meru clusters is the 'business champion Sparta Foods Ltd, a Nairobi-based firm that processes and sells whole, peeled and sliced potatoes to hotels and restaurants. Sparta plans to triple its capacity to 450 metric tonnes per month by end of 2014, and to progressively contract with as many as 4,000 to 5,000 farmers in the next five years. "Our main problem is supply," explained Audrey Ndubi, managing director of Sparta. "We currently import from Tanzania when supplies from Kenyan farmers are not adequate. These are clusters will help keep our processing plant running at full capacity throughout the year.

It's a huge market, because Kenyans eat more potatoes than any other crop except maize," stated Edward Boars, regional agribusiness co-coordinator of the 2SCALE project in east and southern Africa. "Our job is to help small-scale farmers grow for this market in profitable and sustainable ways.