Salgaa: From blackspot to potato hub

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Joseph Nderitu, an agronomist trains farmers on a potato farm in Salgaa, Nakuru County. One of the mistakes that many farmers make is to just dig six inches deep ridges and place their seedlings then bury them in the soil, according to Athanasious Kaituyu, an agronomist from Agrico East Africa. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Mention Salgaa, an area on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, and what comes to mind are the infamous black spots that have claimed the lives of many in road accidents.

But away from the bad name, Salgaa is a rich agricultural zone where French beans, garden peas, maize, beans, vegetables and several other food crops thrive.

It is one of the breadbaskets of the cosmopolitan county because it experiences good rainfall across the year.

Salgaa derives its name from Kipsigis words Sal, which means praise, and gaa home. Thus in Kalenjin, it means praising one’s home.

And the praises it is steadily earning as it also becomes a potato hub, giving Molo, Dundori and Mau Summit a run for their money.

Andrea Cheruiyot is one of the 200 large-scale potato growers in the region that produces over 2,000 tonnes annually.

Seeds of Gold team finds him on his 10 acres with several farmers and an agricultural expert sharing tips of how to farm the crop.

“One of the mistakes many farmers make is to dig six inches deep ridges and place their seedlings and bury them in the soil,” Athanasious Kaituyu, an agronomist from Agrico East Africa, explained.

“Prepare the soil before planting. Ensure that you have a minimum 15cm loose soil. Place the seed on top of the soil that has been loosened and build a ridge over it. A row width of 75cm is recommended, ensuring there is a 15-30cm spacing between each tuber within the row,” added Kaituyu.

Farmers admitted that they bury their seeds in the soil without finding out about nutrients it has.

CAUTION AGAINST RECYCLING SEEDS

“I have realised the cause of harvesting as low as four bags per acre instead of 15-20 bags,” said farmer Humphrey Mugo from Mau Narok.

Ridging the potato rows helps in controlling weeds and will give the new tubers space to grow without becoming green from light exposure,” said Kaituyu.

He observed that big ridges are recommended as they are used as water reservoir and maintain moisture for long periods.

Kaituyu, a smallholder training and extension manager at Agrico East Africa, cautioned farmers against recycling seeds, noting that use of certified seeds improves yields and prevents spread of diseases.

“Certified seeds guard against Late blight. Bacterial wilt can also be controlled by crop rotation, clean fields and by avoiding the use of contaminated irrigation water.”

Cheruiyot has planted Markies seed potato variety for French fries, crisps and fresh consumption. Other high-yielding varieties include Destiny, Manitou and Rudolph.

“I have planted certified seeds and recycled seeds, I want to compare the yields. I hope to get about 20 bags per acre in the field which I have planted certified seeds,” says Cheruiyot.

Most farmers sell their produce to traders for as low as Sh2,000 per 100kg extended bag. But this is set to change as they are now embracing contract farming and growing varieties for specific use.

Corien Herweijer, a marketing manager at Agrico East Africa, said potato farming is taking root in Salgaa and most farmers are currently investing in certified seeds and using quality inputs, and are growing the crop knowing where to sell the harvest.

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