As thousands of Kenyans sleep hungry due to the ongoing drought, potatoes worth millions of shillings are going to waste in Kinangop Nyandarua County due to lack of market. Farmers from the agriculture rich county are now calling on the State to buy the produce and distribute it among the starving Kenyans. The farmers have attributed the current crisis to the recently introduced Irish potato regulations of 2019 that have locked out traders and transporters. This comes two days after farmers, traders and transporters from the region moved to the High Court seeking to have the regulations suspended. The farmers are seeking legal protection to freely engage in trading, marketing, packaging and processing of the product from the regulations which they term as unconstitutional.
According to farmers from Githabai village, the prices of the produce had dropped by over 60 percent since the new regulations came into place. According to one of the farmers Jane Kamau, potatoes were rotting in the stores due to lack of market, adding that the government should ferry the produce to the starving families. She said that they were facing challenges in paying school fees and addressing their personal needs as buyers shied off from their farms. “I harvested twelve bags a month ago and am yet to get a buyer due to the new laws that have seen transporters and the traders arrested and harassed by county officers,” she said. This was echoed by another farmer Francis Gitau who noted that a bucket of potatoes was going for Sh200 from Sh700 with a limited number of buyers visiting the area.
He attributed the losses to the new regulations which directed traders to package the produce in 50Kgs bags and make sure they had an operating license. “This new regulations should be suspended or reviewed as they have ended up causing us major losses and turned against us,” he said. Gitau challenged the county government to intervene as the crisis deepened, noting that they were still waiting for the value addition factories as promised by the county government. Another trader Susan Nyambura said that potato farming which was the mainstay of nearly all homes in the county was no longer profitable. She said that some of the farmers were feeding the produce to their livestock as traders and transporters engaged in other businesses.
“The biggest problem is the new regulations that have seen traders shun off this area leaving us with tonnes of potatoes in our farms and stores,” she said. Speaking earlier on phone, the CEC for Agriculture James Karitu in the county defended the regulations noting that they were meant to cushion farmers from brokers who had exploited them for years. “The current opposition on the potato regulations is led by brokers but we shall not be cowed as we are keen to protect our farmers who for years have not benefited from this crop,” he said.