Determinants of the Use of Certified Seed Potato among Smallholder Farmers: The Case of Potato Growers in Central and Eastern Kenya
Potato yields in sub-Saharan Africa remain very low compared with those of developed countries. Yet potato is major food staple and source of income to the predominantly smallholder growing households in the tropical highlands of this region. A major cause of the low potato yields is the use of poor quality seed potato. This paper examines the factors determining the decision to use certified seed potato (CSP), as well as the intensity of its use, among potato growers with access to it. We
... cess to it. We focused on potato growers in the central highlands of Kenya and used regression analysis to test hypotheses relating to potential impediments of CSP use. The study found that the distance to the market (a proxy for transaction costs), household food insecurity, and asset endowment affect the decision to use CSP. However, the effect of the intensity of use of CSP depends on how the intensity variable is defined. Several other control variables also affect the decision and extent of CSP use. The study concludes that transaction costs, asset endowment, and household food insecurity play a major role in the decision by smallholder potato farmers to use CSP and the extent to which they do so. We also discuss the policy implications of the findings. Agriculture 2016, 6, 55 2 of 12 the Aberdare range, Mt Elgon, the edges of the Rift Valley, and the Mau escarpment, in altitudes ranging from 1500 to 3000 m above sea level  . These areas have some of the most productive agricultural lands in Kenya, most of which are characterized by deep fertile volcanic soils and 1100-2700 mm of rainfall per year  . The tropical humid climate enables the production of potato mainly through rainfed farming. However, despite the suitable soils and climate, potato yields in the tropical highlands remain very low and typically fluctuate between 8 and 10 tons per hectare. These yields are very low, compared with yields of 40 tons per hectare obtained by developed country farmers [2, 9] . The low potato yields in the tropical highlands of Africa are largely attributed to pests and diseases, particularly late blight, bacterial wilt, and viruses, and to the inadequate supply and farmer access to quality seed [2, 5] . The latter problem results in the use and reuse of poor-quality, pest-and disease-infested seeds. Low yields, on the other hand, impedes household commercialization and confines smallholder farmers in subsistence agriculture [10, 11] , hence limiting small farm sector development and ultimately entrenching food insecurity and poverty. The need to arrest the decline in potato yields has been a major goal of policy makers in the tropical highland regions of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. For instance, the government of Tanzania, jointly with Ministry of Agriculture, recently invested in a three-year project intended to develop the potato seed sector and reverse yield declines in the southern highland region. In Kenya, this effort is exemplified by the recent formulation of a multi-partner potato strategy  for Nyandarua County, a leading potato producing county in Kenya, in January 2015. An earlier strategy, first piloted in Kenya, was the establishment of a rapid seed multiplication technique, commonly known as the "3G" technique, which produces quality seed using fewer generations of field multiplication  . Through this technique, Kisima Farm Ltd., a private sector firm, located in Meru, Central Kenya, has, since 2009, been multiplying/bulking (Kisima Farm Ltd. does not produce own seed. Instead, it uses rapid multiplication technique to bulk early generation seed into farmer's seed potato) high quality certified seed potato (CSP) for sale to smallholder farmers. This private sector multiplication of seed potato has increased the supply of quality seed and improved farmers' physical access to seed. However, the majority of farmers still use their own or recycled seed. This paper examines the adoption of CSP among farmers located in close proximity to Kisima Farm Ltd. It especially addresses two interrelated research questions: (1) What are the determinants of the farmer's decision to use CSP? (2) Given the decision to use CSP, what factors affect the intensity of the use of CSP? We tested three hypotheses relating to the decision and intensity of the use of CSP. First, for Hypothesis 1, we tested whether the decision and extent of the use of CSP is affected by the distance to the source of the seed. Seed potato is bulky; hence, movement over a long distance is likely to entail high transportation and transaction costs. Hence, it is hypothesized that distance from the farm to the seed potato source has a negative effect on both the decision and extent of the use of CSP. Second, for Hypothesis 2, we tested the effect of asset endowment on the decision and extent of using CSP. CSP is by all means expensive. The high cost of CSP is expected to discourage its use. Thus, we hypothesize that farmers who are better off in terms of financial and other assets are more likely to use CSP than their counterparts. Lastly, in order to examine if food insecurity status of the household reduces the use of quality seed, we tested, for Hypothesis 3, the effect of self-perceived household food insecurity on the use of CSP. Indeed, household food insecurity can affect the use of CSP through various ways; chief among them is the diversion of funds that would be invested in CSP into food purchases. The results of each of these tests are presented in Section 4. The Study Context The majority of smallholder farmers have poor access to CSP and hence depend on seed from their own sources or on seed purchased from neighbors or in local markets. Data from this study indicate that up to 65% of the respondents replace their seed potato mainly with those from neighbors and local market purchases. Usually more than 95% of seed purchased locally are of low quality.