Farmers from at least six counties that grow potatoes will reap big after the devolved units signed a deal to work together in enforcing the 50kg packaging rule.
Middlemen have been exploiting farmers from potato growing regions, forcing them to pack the produce in gunny bags weighing between 180kg and 200 kilos, which they later sell for profit at the farmers’ expense.
Nakuru, Nyandarua, Narok, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties have now agreed to work together with all stakeholders to identify and gazette potato collection points as well as marketing centres in the regions.
This pact was made in Naivasha on Wednesday where governors and representatives from the six counties met to strategise on ways to protect potato farmers from exploitation.
The counties agreed to work closely with law enforcers and the Judiciary to ensure full compliance with the rule by the industry players.
“We have agreed to join efforts to enforce the 50kg potato packaging rule. The potato sector is a huge contributor to the economy, worth up to Sh70 billion annually, and has a potential of Sh200 billion. We recognise that one million farmers benefit from potato growing and the crop supports 3.5 million value chain actors,” said Governor Lee Kinyanjui.
“The Council of Governors submitted a list of crop inspectors who are expected to implement these regulations. We ask the national government, through the Agriculture and Food Authority (Afa), to gazette the inspectors to enable them to begin work immediately,” said the county boss.
Governor Kinyanjui further said the counties will come up with grading guidelines in the next one month.
According to Elgeyo Markwet Governor Alex Tolgos, the counties are keen on working as one team to ensure the regulations are implemented.
“We are committed to protecting our farmers from exploitation so that they earn what is rightfully theirs. We are determined to dismantle these cartels that have operated for a very long time,” said Mr Tolgos
Other representatives present during the agreement were deputy governors Daniel Chemno of Uasin Gishu and Cecilla Mbuthia from Nyandarua as well as Agriculture CECs from the six counties.
The representatives lauded a recent High Court judgment that dismissed a case seeking to block the law on packaging potatoes in 50kg bags.
Two weeks ago, the High Court in Nairobi threw out a case filed by 17 farmers seeking to bar the government from implementing section 42 of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority Act, paving the way for full implementation of the 50kg standard packaging law.
The law makes it illegal to package potatoes in bags which can hold more than 50 kilogrammes.
High Court Judge Weldon Korir ruled that the petitioners did not have evidence to support their case that the packaging law is unconstitutional.
The landmark judgment has been lauded by farmers and leaders from potato growing areas, who say it is a resounding defeat of cartels seeking to control the sector.
Already, in Nakuru, in a move aimed at taming the middlemen, the county administration has recruited some 28 crop inspectors to enforce the potato packaging regulations.
Governor Kinyanjui revealed that implementation of the regulations has already started.
The inspectors will monitor production, dealing, weighing, handling and processing to ensure compliance.
“The officers are expected to ensure farmers, vendors and transporters adhere to the 50kg packaging rule. They are required to work within the law and with due diligence to help restore sanity in the industry,” said Mr Kinyanjui.
For long, brokers opted for exploitative packaging, weighing more than 120 kilos per bag, then bought at a general price without considering its weight.
Offenders can be fined up to Sh500,000 or jailed for one year or both.
Twenty other farm products — including legumes, cereals, roots and tubers — are also covered by the law.
Nyandarua and Nakuru, which have started implementing the law, are the leading producers of potatoes among the 16 counties.
Nyandarua is the leading producer of potatoes in Kenya, with 35 per cent, which generates an estimated Sh9 billion annually, followed by Nakuru.
Records from the department of agriculture in Nyandarua show that the county produces 550,000 metric tonnes of potatoes from about 37,000 hectares.
In Nakuru, potatoes are grown in agriculturally rich areas of Molo, Subukia, Kuresoi South and Kuresoi North, Mau Narok and Njoro.
The 50kg per bag packaging law was introduced last year, bringing to an end an era of exploitation of farmers by brokers and middlemen.