By Wendy MacDonald
President - Farmers Helping Farmers
Since early 2019, FHF has been working to find ways to find safer ways for Kenyan farmers to apply potato pesticides.
Potatoes are now the second most important staple crop in Kenya, providing high volumes of nutritious food and an increasingly important source of income to smallholding farmers. With excellent growing conditions, Meru County is one of Kenya’s top three potato growing areas. However, current approaches to production also pose risks to farmers.
An FHF survey in February found that, without exception, our farm families use backpack sprayers to apply pesticides, spraying in front of themselves and then walking through the sprayed crop and inhaling droplets. The survey found that women do all the spraying on one-third of the farms, and share in the work of spraying on another one-third. Ongoing staff and volunteer observation confirm these approaches.
To address these health risks, during the 2020 tour, FHF volunteers Peter Townshend, Ken Mellish, and Kendra Thurston worked with our Kenyan staff and local tradespersons to develop a prototype potato sprayer, designed to be pulled by the farmer, putting the spray behind them.
In less than two weeks, an initial single-wheel model was built, tested, and refined into a second, larger two-wheeled model. This prototype was demonstrated at Kisima Farm Day, an event drawing over a hundred local farmers including many members of FHF’s new women’s groups. The work attracted enormous interest throughout and many farmers asked about buying the prototype.
Currently, FHF is seeking funding support to further test and develop the sprayer, and plans to complement this work with a broader initiative to train farmers in Integrated Pest Management – spraying the right pesticide, in the right amounts, at the right times to minimize pesticide use and exposure.
Read more on our 2020 blog in this excellent report from Peter Townshend: