Potato traders in the country are finding themselves in a tight fix for packaging the tuber in excess bags, following recently passed law that standardizes packaging coming at a time when farmers have been earning upto Sh10,000 less than the traders for each potato bag which has discouraged production.
The Standard packaging weights for cereals, legumes, roots and tubers law, seeks to cushion potato farmers from decades of exploitation which have seen middlemen and traders use extended bags often of over 150 kg for the same price of 110kg bags which have predominantly been in use. The traders then sell the potatoes in kilos at the markets reaping more than the farmers.
The traditional 110kgs bag has been fetching Sh3,000 as farm gate price. However traders coerce farmers to filling their extended bags of upto 150kgs for the same price. With a kilo of potatoes going for Sh80 in various markets traders pocket Sh13, 000, Sh10, 000 more than farmers. This, despite the fact that farmers have to buy inputs to produce the potatoes while the middlemen’s only expense is transport.
The new law has now introduced a fine of Sh500,000 or a one year jail term of both to anyone caught packaging or transporting the tuber in bags exceeding the 50kg limit. Counties especially where potato farming is widely practiced have also instituted their own penalties to further bar the rogue traders.
Nakuru County Assembly for example has already passed a fine of Sh10,000 or imprisonment of six months or both.
Over Christmas holidays six traders were arrested in Nyandarua county where they were transporting over 130 potato bags contrary to the regulations after a tip off from farmers.
The new regulations are meant to incentivize farmers to go back to potato farming which most farmers have neglected on poor returns. It is Kenya’s second most important food crop behind maize, involving more than 790,000 smallholder farmers producing 2.9 million metric tonnes across 158,000 hectares.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, potato is capable of earning the country Kenya more than Sh40 billion annually if farmers got the right farm gate price and invested in modern seed varieties.