Multiple challenges sweet potato farmers in Migori county have faced in the past are set to be a thing of the past when work on a multi-million-shilling processing plant is completed by next year. Construction of the Sh4 billion Sweet Potato Processing factory starts towards the end of the year, according to county government officials and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Devolution, Nelson Marwa.
According to Marwa, who hails from the county: “This project is an opener of trade which, if handled well, can unlock the industry to the world, hence uplifting the economy of both the Kuria community and Migori at large”.
The county executive for Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock, Valentine Okongo says the devolved unit had an elaborate plan to start sweet potato farming in Kuria, since it is grown as a domestic and commercial crop. She said the factory is expected to process potatoes into chips and flour, which is becoming popular in Kenyan supermarkets.
“Sweet potato flour is best when mixed with wheat flour for the purpose of preparing a popular Kenyan foodstuff, chapati,” he said. “Potato weevils and nematodes are not a threat to our sweet potato farmers like in other counties. After construction of mini-processing plant, the farmers’ production will improve four times of the current yield,” she said.
To be built at Getonganya, Kuria West sub-county, the factory is part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s effort to address the manufacturing and food security two items of his Big Four agenda. The national and county government will fund the project with additional financial backing coming from the European Union.
The plant is expected to process over 100 tonnes of sweet potatoes daily, giving famers opportunity to expand production in the area. Construction of the plant means the days of brokers who cash in on lack of markets for the tuber are numbered after farmers intensified sweet potato farming following the downfall tobacco farming in the county.
Kuria produces close to 0.3 million tonnes of sweet potatoes per year with an estimated 6,500 farmers involved in the production. The area Member of County Assembly, Marwa Kitayama, has asked the residents to embrace the project. An extended 90kg sack fetches between Sh1, 000 and Sh1,500 in Migori.
At Wakulima Market in Nairobi, a similar sack retails for Sh3, 000 to Sh3, 500. Rose Mwamba says outdated variety of sweet potato cuttings reduce yields by almost half of the crop stigmatised by the local community as a crop for the poor.
Amos Maroa says he now grows sweet potatos in Nyanchabo village, Kuria West Sub-County. Maize farming proved difficult to sustain, due to high input and less profit, he says.