AFA Director General, Kello Harsama, said he will be visiting potato-growing areas in Melili and the upper parts of Narok, including Mau Narok, in the next two to three weeks to ensure the law is fully enforced.
The Crops (Irish Potatoes) Regulations, 2019, and the Crops Act provide for packaging in 50kg bags. The law also demands that potatoes be packaged in approved clean material that allows for free flow of air.
“Many of the business people dealing in potatoes have flouted these regulations. I want to assure farmers that we are going to enforce this law so that we have potatoes being packaged in only 50kg bags,” he said.
Traders risk a fine of Ksh5 million (US$45,065.34) or a jail term of three years for failing to comply with the 50kg packaging as per the regulations, which further state that anyone found transporting potatoes in more than 50kg bags risks a Ksh500,000 (US$ 4,506.53) fine or a three-month jail term.
“We have since visited many counties to sensitize the public to this regulation. We will ensure we enforce the law and farmers are not exploited,” he said.
AFA started a sensitization exercise in Meru county on June 8, 2021, and later extended it to Nyandarua and other potato-growing counties. Enforcement of the Irish potato regulations started immediately and those caught contravening the law were arrested with a few potato traders being arraigned in court.
On poor potato prices, Harsama said the government cannot determine the price, adding that this is based on the willing seller-willing buyer approach—a voluntary transaction. Prices have declined to a low of Ksh250 (US$ 2.25) after the government put in place the 50kg packaging regulation.
“However, the recent trend of poor potato prices has made us go back to the drawing board and think how best we can motivate farmers. This is in view of ensuring we have a consistent interest in farmers doing potato business. We have never seen such a poor price in potatoes and the government is thinking of how best it can improve the prices,” he said.
Harsama said some stakeholders have been suggesting that the ministry regulates prices like in wheat and maize.
“These are some of the issues we are going to explore so that we have some avenues to ensure we motivate these farmers. It will be unfortunate for us to lose potato farmers and result in an unfortunate situation of importing potatoes from other countries. We must go back to the drawing board and come up with policies to guide these prices,” he said.
Kenya is the fifth largest Irish potato producer in Sub-Saharan Africa and had an output of 1,335,883 tonnes in 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The crop is the second most important staple food after maize with approximately 800,000 growers in 2015 and it plays a crucial role in national and nutrition security.
The major Irish potato growing regions in Kenya include Nyandarua, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, Meru, Nyeri, Kiambu, Taita Taveta, Narok, Bomet, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Kisii, Nyamira, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Baringo, Nandi, Laikipia and Kericho.
However, some farmers and leaders have lamented that some parts of the regulations are punitive. The law, passed in 2019 and currently being implemented in the country, requires growers, transporters, dealers and processors to register with the counties, failure to which they face imprisonment, fines or both.
Failure to use unregistered pest control products also attracts up to Sh500,000 (US$ 4,506.53) in fine. It also states that the selling and buying of Irish potatoes for home consumption may be done through a collection center, medium or designated market.
Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia said that the new rules could affect the country’s bid to achieve food security as they could discourage farmers from producing food.