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Elgeyo Marakwet potato growers triple profits by buying group trucks

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Farmers in Kenya’s leading potato-producing county, Elgeyo Marakwet, have cut out middlemen and transporters by buying group trucks, tripling their potato profits.

By ferrying their goods directly to markets in the populous urban centers of Nairobi and Mombasa, farmers make Sh1,600-2,000 and 1,800-2,500 respectively for a 50-kilogram bag, a far cry from the paltry Sh500 they were forced to sell their potatoes for before.

“Besides Nyandarua, no other county is growing more potatoes than Marakwet. Two years ago when there was a glut in production I could barely get any off-takers to pick produce from my farm because I live 54 kilometers from Iten. I had to pay for transport costs and sold a 90-kilogram bag for as little as Sh500. Take away transport and harvesting costs, and I made 25 bob net profit for every bag I sold,” said Godfrey Ruto.

This experience was a watershed moment for the farmer who has grown potatoes for a decade. “We would complain about poor prices but it had never gotten that bad,” he said.  

Ruto who grows nine acres of Shangi potatoes and 13 acres of commercial hay teamed up with his cousin and a neighbor who are also potato farmers to purchase a secondhand FH truck for Sh1.3M.

Dubbed gari ya mkulima mdogo or gari ya hustler by farmers, the Mitsubishi FH215 truck, commonly referred to as the FH truck is revered for its limited fuel consumption, reliability, ease and affordability of repairing and never breaking down even under hard use. All factors that make it perfect for agricultural use.

It is also relatively affordable compared to other ten-tonne trucks costing anywhere from Sh750,000 to 3.5M used.

The truck fits 120 eighty kilogram bags. Previously the  farmers would have paid Sh12,0000 for such a load to be transported to Nairobi and anywhere from double to three times as much for it to reach Mombasa.

“Unlike seven years back when I started transporting potatoes from Elgeyo Marakwet, almost every farmer with at least 10 acres under potatoes has their own or a group FH truck,” explained Michael Kweza, a potato transporter who’s delved into French beans farming in an effort to diversify his income.

Once the trucks get to Nairobi and Mombasa they come back with cheaper bulk fertiliser and seeds for their own use and which they also sell to other farmers.

“The key is establishing connections with traders in Karatina, Marikiti, Kongowea, as well as wholesale buyers and even brokers who take the potatoes immediately we get there, Ruto said.

Government permits are also needed to operate within and transit across counties. This includes a standard KeNHA permit and licenses required by various transit counties. For counties such as Machakos and Garissa, you’ll need an operating license, these can be paid per load or as a one-off monthly cost of Sh 3000 and 6000 respectively. Counties like Kisii also charge for parking fees. 

With one potato bag costing Sh 300 to 400 to produce, the farmers make a handsome profit even when selling a bag for Sh1,600 which is now the least amount they sell their produce for.

Their truck never rests though, once it is through transporting potatoes, they put it to work ferrying hay to dairy farmers across the country.

Read more:

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