The devastating impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent measures taken by the government to curb its high rate of transmission among the public has had a huge impact on Agriculture. All potato sector players are experiencing one or more new challenges or setbacks arising directly or indirectly from this pandemic.
Companies and organizations have had to take precautionary measures in line with the government directives with some having put some of their operations or projects on hold. Most events on the potato calendar have been postponed including the 2020 National Potato Conference and the 2020 North Rift Region Potato fair that were due to be held in May and June respectively. Currently, most of the NPCK staff members and many of the partners are working from home and meetings are being held via teleconferencing. However, where necessary physical meetings and travels are being undertaken to ensure essential service continues.
As the general public practice self- isolation and social distancing, potato processors such as fast foods and restaurants have seen drastic reduction in number of customers with some opting to shut down temporarily. Further, open air markets, where most potatoes are traded have also experienced disruption in their operations due to the pandemic. Due to the dusk to dawn curfew, transportation of the crop has been restricted to day-time only resulting in less supply to the markets. Traders are also working for shorter hours due to the curfew. All this has greatly reduced potato demand and has left farmers with surplus, a challenge that is compounded by the relatively high perishability of the crop. The conventional extension services to farmers have also been interrupted. Moreover, there are claims of increased farm input prices by unscrupulous agro-vets who intend to take advantage of the situation while others are claiming that transportation cost of fertilizer has increased.
However, stakeholders are identifying agriculture, and more importantly, where food production, distribution and marketing of foodstuffs is concerned, as essential services that must go hand- in- hand with healthy measures to ensure food security for majority of Kenyans. NPCK and partners are working to address challenges being experienced in potato value chains and whole agriculture sector. NPCK, partners and other agriculture sector players are currently lobbying the national and county governments to cease closure of markets and instead train market actors on good precautionary measures and good hygiene that will enable continued business albeit in a safer environment. The same partnership is lobbying to ensure farmers continue to access farm inputs at the recommended prices.
The Council, working with partners intends to intensify digital extension services via the Viazi soko platform using SMSs, voiceover and video clips where applicable. The council is also supporting collective procurement of potato farm inputs by farmers as well as collective marketing of ware potatoes.
We wish all of our readers and partners good health. Stay safe.