How Lucy Mwaniki has embraced mechanisation in her potato farming venture, boosting her yields.
The tractor on the farm in Ol-Kalau, Nyandarua County, leaves a cloud of dust as it digs its ‘claws’ deeper into the soil to extract potatoes.
Lucy Mwaniki, the owner of the two-acre potato farm, stands on the edge, near where several bags of harvested potatoes have been placed, looking at the ongoing work as she smiles.
She is among the few farmers in the potato growing region who have embraced mechanised farming.
“I have been using tractor-driven planters and harvesters for the last one year and so far I am happy because my costs have come down,” says the businesswoman.
The tractor, hired from Nyandarua county government, is fitted with the different machines to suit all stages of potato production.
The machine ploughs, plants, applies fertiliser and harvests, making her work much, much easier.
“My parents gave up on potato farming in 2015 and I began figuring out how to use the land,” she recalls.
While potato farming was her agribusiness of choice, she feared how she would manage the many workers associated with the farming yet she lives away in Naivasha.
She sought advice from agricultural extension officers on land preparation, seeds and management of the crop.
Lucy later bought pure Shangi variety seeds from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation in Ol Joro Orok and planted for the first time in February last year.
Her initial capital was Sh260,000 that went on leasing the land from her parents at Sh25,000 a year, land preparation and buying of 40 50kg bags of seeds at Sh2,000 each.
The crop did well, but she spent Sh25,000 to pay 10 workers who harvested the produce for 10 days.
“This was besides the Sh1,500 I spent on fuel every day while driving from Naivasha to the farm. The harvesting stretched for 10 days because it was then raining and at some point, the workers refused to work and demanded that I must cook lunch for them,” she recalls, noting the food cost her an extra Sh3,500.
Due to delayed harvesting, she further had to hire people to sort out potatoes, some that had already started rotting or had blemishes.
“Since they were using hoes, some of the workers cut the potatoes rendering them unsaleable that I had to give them.”
She had targeted 300 50kg bags but ended up with 220 which she sold at Sh2,000 each to traders.
Later, she learnt that if she had used machines to do the work, she would only had paid Sh10,000, Sh5,000 per acre, for the work that would have taken three hours.
She has embraced mechanisation since then. Two weeks ago, she harvested 140 110kg bags of potatoes and 50 50kg bags of seeds, thanks to machines.
“Mechanised farming is the best way to overcome post-harvest losses and save time and money. The harvester does not cut potatoes minimising losses,” Margaret Mungai, an agricultural officer in the Nyandarua says.
She adds machines are sanitised and, therefore, cannot infect the soil unlike jembes which are used from one farm to the other.
“You cannot plant manually and try to mechanise the harvesting. It will not work. Use have to use machines all through,” she advises.