•Despite Kenya having the potential, supplies for potatoes have majorly been from South Africa and Egypt.
•In the new initiative four counties, Nyandarua, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nyeri will be the first beneficiaries in the first half of 2023.
Kenyan potato farmers are getting closer to supplying multi-national fast food companies operating in Kenya with the commodity.
While Kenya remains a key market for fast food companies, supplies for potatoes have majorly been from South Africa and Egypt.
This is for brands such as KFC which last year hit headlines over the importation of potatoes.
This was a major surprise amidst the perennial woe and cry by Kenyan potato farmers, especially in the potato-glut zone of Nyandarua who have been decrying the lack of market for their produce.
However, KFC defended its move saying the quality and traceability of potatoes grown locally could not be guaranteed.
The move was faulted by lobby groups and local farmers, who protested the decision to import the commodity, instead of enhancing the capacity for local farmers.
The debate on the quality of potatoes produced locally has seen Co-operative Bank, Yara and Bayer East Africa launch ‘Potato Consortium’ to help smallholder farmers increase yields and reduce post-harvest losses by 50 per cent in the next two years.
In the new initiative, four counties-Nyandarua, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nyeri will be the first beneficiaries in the first half of 2023.
“KFC together with other stakeholders have been working quietly behind the scenes to put in place mechanisms for a farmer-anchored sustainable supply chain for potatoes,” the consortium said in a statement.
Early last year, the American fast-food chain announced that it had opened its doors to Kenyan farmers to supply it with potatoes for French fries, as long as they meet their standards.
The fast food chain had identified Nyandarua as the first county that had the potential supply potatoes, from December last year.
National Potato Council and KFC even agreed on a potato variety that Kenyan farmers can now grow to supply the US-based fast-food chain, to meet its French fries needs.
“We are now talking to processors who can freeze and take them to KFC following the move to identify the variety that can be planted,” said the chief executive at National Potato Council Wachira Kaguongo.
The renewed efforts to widen the market for the product will come as a boost at a time potato has become the second most important food crop after maize.
Potato plays a key role and is among the top five important crops in Kenya, with approximately 450,000 acres of potato planted per year.
The average productivity from studies conducted is 3 tons per acre, making it a loss making venture for farmers; industries within the potato value chain have growth limitations.
According to the International Potato Center, the commodity is grown by 800,000 small-scale farmers, generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along the value chain.
It is estimated to contribute more than Sh50 billion to the Kenyan economy.
“However, with the joint efforts of the partners in the consortium, the productivity can improve to 14 tonnes per acre, with this contributing to food security and through consistent supply of potato, industries can grow” the consortium noted.
In Kenya, direct and indirect costs have led to an increase in imports of potato chips from Egypt and Tanzania, which are at times cheaper than locally sourced ones.
The East African region has also sought to protect its domestic production from the flood of cheaper potatoes.
In an effort to save local farmers, National Treasury in its last years’ budget reading, announced a one-year 30 percent duty on potatoes imported from outside the East African common market.
“It is our desire that by 2026, this partnership will benefit 30,000 potato farmers in Kenya, improving yields by 50 percent and reducing post-harvest losses by at least 50 percent,” the statement reads in part.
The key gaps to be addressed in the program include agronomy, commercial and digital knowledge, and access to finance and market.