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Agrico East Africa goes digital – and Kenyan potato farmers love it…

The Agrico East Africa team was working hard the past few months to produce video tutorials on ‘Profitable Potato Farming in Kenya’. They did this in a well-rewarded effort to continue their work of rendering agronomic support to smallholder farmers in Kenya, despite the debilitating COVID-19 restrictions that was imposed on Kenyan citizens during the pandemic.

Agrico East Africa (EA), operating as Potato Services Africa Limited, has been working in Kenya since 2015 as a merchant of – Kenyan produced – certified potato seed.  

Corien Herweijer, Business Development Manager for Agrico East Africa told Potato News Today that she and her team managed over the last 5 years to develop a profitable and sustainable value chain in Kenya – providing certified potato seed to Kenyan smallholder potato farmers who were struggling to get access to good quality certified seed and other inputs. Corien says that according to estimates, only about 5% of the annual demand for certified potato seed is currently being met. 

“Kenya is estimated to have about 800,000 smallholder farmers, and each of them operate on an average of less than 1 acre / season,” Corien says. “In Kenya, potato is the second most important agricultural crop after the staple food maize,” she says.

“However, looking at production statistics over the years, Kenyan potato smallholder farmers have always struggled to attain a high level of productivity and therefore lack profitability with their potato crops. Studies show that Kenyan farmers achieve an average production level of only 3-4 tons per acre, whereas a yield of at least 8-10 tons is needed for a farmer to break even and then starting to make a profit,” Corien says. 

Whilst selling certified, high quality seed, the team at Agrico EA noticed in the past that there was a great lack of knowledge amongst farmers about good agronomical practices. This includes basic knowhow about crop rotation, land preparation, suitable nutrition and an effective spray program for pest and disease management. This led them then to engage farmers more in training, mainly through organized producer groups and cooperatives and with the support garnered from the Counties in the country. 

Corien Herweijer says that Agrico East Africa developed a ‘Potato Growing Guide’ in which they explain in text how Kenyan farmers can improve their potato farming practices and methods.

“Our team noticed that a majority of the farmers who were willing to make the investment to buy certified seed from Agrico EA (average investment of US$500/acre, equivalent to a farmer’s 1-2 monthly income), hardly ever managed to invest 20 minutes of their time to read this guide,” Corien says.

Agrico EA farmer training session

This realization sent the Agrico EA team “back to the drawing board” so to speak, they came back from that with a solution: video tutorials instead of text… “Our goal was to replicate and demonstrate in these videos the very same principles and techniques that are communicated to farmers in-person in the field,” Corien says.

“Experience has shown us that this kind of education methods pays off: smallholders that have adopted Agrico EA’s modern agricultural practices have witnessed an average yield growth to more than 14 tons per acre, and an average net income boost of more than USD 2,000 per acre,” she says. “This is of course in combination with access to modern seed potato varieties, other essential inputs, and much needed finance,” she notes. 

It was obvious to the Agrico EA team that having short video clips that can easily be shared through modern media seems the way to go to reach potato farmers. Especially in view of the fact that in Kenya there are relatively good mobile phone and Internet access services available, coupled with the reality that most of Agrico EA’s customers are highly fragmented and geographically dispersed across a wide area. “And that marked the start of the Agrico EA video tutorials,” Corien says.

“Interestingly enough, the timing of the development of the video tutorials could not have been better,” Corien told us. “When COVID19 hit Kenya in March 2020, the Kenyan government very quickly announced severe restrictions in movement and the gathering of people in large groups. Farmer field days and exhibitions have become impossible to organize and attend as before. The videos should now prove themselves to be a very effective replacement of these meetings instead,” Corien says.

“Exploring the use of new media targeting users in rural areas is an interesting experience for our Agrico EA team,” says Corien. “Feedback on this is slowly trickling in, but we can tell that farmers love the visual aid the videos provide, and it of course enables them to refer back to tutorials at any time as they need – rather than being in the field and consuming all information at once.”

In the videos, an Agrico agronomist takes farmers through each critical step of potato cultivation, including ‘shamba‘ (=farm) preparation, planting, growing and harvesting.  Says Corien Herweijer: “Agrico EA has no doubt shown its dynamic capacity to keep learning and growing, as part of an ambitious attempt to aide the Kenyan farmers achieve Profitable Potato Farming goals, and through achieving this goal, also increase potato value chain effectiveness, whilst boosting food security for the Kenyan nation.”

Anyone interested in Agrico East Africa’s work are most welcome to reach out to Corien Herweijer and her team: [email protected]

Source: Agrico East Africa
Thanks to Corien Herweijer of Agrico EA for providing Potato News Today with this information.

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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