NAIROBI, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Eddie Kamau's ancestral village located at the heart of central Kenyan county of Nyandarua has for decades been renowned for producing top-grade potatoes and a wide range of fresh produce including kales and tomatoes.
The middle-aged farmer has an emotional attachment to the tuber which has always flourished in his backyard amid cool weather, abundant rains and the presence of volcanic soils.
Despite a series of setbacks that have hit potato farming in Kamau's locality, mainly insect attacks, crop diseases, market volatility and extreme weather events, he is yet to give up on the once prized cash cow for his family.
"The traditional methods of growing potatoes have proved challenging and that is why we are keen to borrow modern farming practices from China that promise improved yield," Kamau told Xinhua during a recent interview at his farm.
He believed eyeing synergy with China to transform potato farming in the lush green plains that dot Nyandarua County has become urgent amid declining productivity linked to poor agronomic practices, soil acidity and pests' infestation.
According to Kamau, as China-Kenya bilateral cooperation in strategic fields such as agriculture and infrastructure development flourishes, potato farmers are confident of some benefits flowing their way.
He noted that China is both an economic and technological powerhouse whose partnership with the Kenyan government could help transform potato farming through technology adoption and enhanced market linkages.
"It is through applying technologies from China for local potato farming that we hope yields will go up, expanding revenue streams for the farmers," said Kamau. "Simple technologies like harrowing machines, tractors for plowing and machines for sorting potatoes are all that we require to upgrade our favorite vocation."
Also, through a partnership with China, Kenya could be better placed to develop genetically modified potato varieties that are disease-, pest- and drought-resistant. Kenyan smallholder potato farmers were also keen on adopting best practices on value addition from China, in their quest to boost exports to overseas and more lucrative markets, according to Kamau.
"Once we process potatoes into crisps, we are guaranteed a steady market overseas. We look forward to partnership with Chinese retail outlets to market our produce," said Kamau.
He said that farmers in Nyandarua County, which produces 32 percent of potatoes consumed in Kenya, have benefitted from China-built infrastructure projects including the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) thanks to seamless transportation of their produce to markets far away.
"With modern railway and roads courtesy of our partnership with China, I am able to transport my potatoes to the markets speedily and at my own convenience. This is a milestone for the country," said Kamau.
As for Jesse Kamutu, his 25 years' experience in cultivating potatoes has instilled in him the virtues of patience, perseverance and fortitude in the face of setbacks that include losing an entire plantation to voracious pests and potato wilt.
Kamutu said that potato farmers in the expansive Nyandarua County are ready to change course as traditional methods of growing the crop have become increasingly unsustainable.
According to Kamutu, his peers have lost in the overseas markets due to the inability to grow high-quality potato varieties, thereby worsening their financial hardships and sapping their morale.
His optimism is yet to fade as he looks forward to a robust partnership between Kenya and China to modernize potato farming, ensuring the crop is profitable.
"I think it is a good idea for us to work with China in the area of potato farming because the country has technologies that can help us address productivity challenges," said Kamutu. "We can even start exporting potatoes that are processed to China and farmers will benefit immensely."
Kamutu said that if local potato farmers were assisted with appropriate technologies, had access to improved varieties, fertilizer and pesticides, they would produce higher yields to meet local and foreign demand.
Statistics from the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture indicate that potato is the country's second most important staple crop after maize, grown on about 128,000 hectares per year with average yields of eight tonnes per hectare.
Wachira Kangogo, the CEO of the National Potato Council of Kenya, said leveraging Chinese technologies would be key to transforming the livelihoods of an estimated 500,000 smallholder potato farmers in the country.
"We have quite a number of technologies out there in China which can fit here including storage and processing. They can transform the entire potato value chain and unleash benefits to farmers," said Kangogo. ■