Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui has said the devolved unit has started implementing the Irish Potato Regulations 2019 that compels traders to package the crop in 50-kilogram bags.
Those who contravene the rules, Mr Kinyanjui warned, will be prosecuted and risked being fined Sh500, 000 or a one-year jail term. He expressed optimism that other potato growing counties will also enforce the new laws.
Governor Kinyanjui noted that enforcement of the regulations designed to protect farmers from unscrupulous traders had been suspended last year after a number of businessmen filed a petition before the High Court opposing their implementation.
”We have been battling in court with potato traders and brokers over the 50kg packaging restriction. The court recently dismissed the petition thereby paving way for full implementation of the 50kg packaging rule.
We salute the wisdom of the court to stand with the toiling farmers. The quest for national food Security will not be addressed without tackling the plight of farmers. A hungry farmer cannot feed the nation,” observed the governor.
In a statement to newsrooms, the county boss affirmed that the maximum weight of a single unit of package of Irish potatoes shall be 50kg while growers and dealers in Irish potato have been directed to use a weighing scale that has been properly calibrated, serviced, inspected and approved by the Ministry of Trade.
The regulations are aimed at cushioning the farmer from unscrupulous traders who buy potatoes cheaply in the extended bags commonly known as ’dusura’, then go to the market and repackage them into smaller units, which they then sell thus making huge profits.
Despite the Crop (Irish Potato) regulations 2019 rules requiring that potatoes be packed in 50kg bags, middle men still take advantage of the glut and exploit farmers by forcing them to pack the produce in 100-180kg bags for almost the same price as the 50kg bag.
”We are particularly keen on implementing the 50kg rule to ensure unscrupulous brokers stop exploiting farmers by continued use of the excessive packaging techniques famously called Dusura. Previously, potato packaging had no definite weight thereby exposing farmers to exploitation and blackmail from unscrupulous dealers,” he said.
Nakuru is the second largest producer of the crop in Kenya accounting for 18.9 percent of national production. The top producing potato counties are Nyandarua (29.8 per cent) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 per cent). Other potato producing regions include Makueni, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kajiado and Kwale.
In Nakuru, there are about 20,000 farmers growing potatoes on more than 38,000 acres with a total production of 160,000 tonnes of assorted varieties being grown; the shangi variety being dominant.
“Brokers are the major obstacle in enforcing the law as they ask farmers not to package the farm produce as required. After implementation, the move will safeguard both farmers and traders,” the governor said.
Farmers have previously decried lack of certified seeds, pests and disease infestation, fluctuating market prices and exploitation by brokers as some of the issues bedeviling the potato subsector in the Rift Valley region.
But despite the government standardizing the packaging of farm produce at 50kg, brokers have not adhered to the rule. Counties have consistently failed to implement the policy over years.
“It is the same story in the entire region: exploitation, huge investments and losses by the farmers but huge profits raked in by middlemen who control the markets,” said Samuel Kihiu, a potato farmer in Molo.
The Governor said enforcement officers will be deployed across the county to implement the new regulations.
County governments, he said, want farmers to get good returns from their work without being exploited by unscrupulous middlemen. “Our focus is to ensure that farmers are not exploited and get value for money,” he said.
Nakuru County Agriculture Executive Immaculate Maina said they have developed a Bill to address some of the problems surrounding food Security. ”Nakuru is becoming a city and with a population of close to a million people there is a need to start thinking about our food systems,” Maina said.