May 13, 2009
The Kenyan government has
fast-tracked implementation of policies that seek to mainstream
the potato crop as a strategic staple, critical in achieving
Potato is second most important food crop in Kenya after maize.
Introduced in the country a century ago by the British settlers,
potato is widely grown in Kenyan Highlands, where altitude
ranges between 1500-3000 meters above sea level.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, potato farming is a
multimillion industry that employs 2.5 million people at all
levels of value chain.
Annual potato crop value is about Ksh5 billion at farm gate
level and Ksh10 billion at the customer level. Potato
consumption is expanding rapidly owing to changing dietary
habits occasioned by urbanization.
This is evidenced by high intake of potato crisps and fries
among burgeoning youthful population in urban centres. Per
capita consumption of potato currently stands at 30 kgs per year
as compared to per capita maize consumption of 60 kgs annually.
The Director, National Potato Research Centre at the
Kenya Agriculture Research Centre
(KARI), Jackson Kabira, says that Kenya used to be a net
exporter of potatoes to India, Middle East and Europe three
decades ago when its production was at the peak.
However, potato production in Kenya” has stagnated since
1999-2007 due to factors associated with poor crop husbandry,
climate change and low policy priority. The potato value chain
is hobbled by a myriad challenges that includes poor marketing
and storage, that dents farmers income and morale”, he says.
He further attributes the decline of potato production to rains
failure, and bacteria wilt. Other bottlenecks that have dwarfed
sustainable potato farming in Kenya include poor quality seeds
and post harvest losses.
Currently, Kenya produces an average of 800,000 metric tonnes of
potatoes that translates into a National average of 7-9 tones
per hectare as compared to Netherlands, which produces 40 tones
The Kenyan government has recognized the critical role of potato
in alleviating chronic hunger, against a background of dwindling
production of maize and other staples.
The realization comes against a prolonged dithering on the part
of policy makers to give prominence to the staple. “Since 2003,
the Ministry of Agriculture has been working on a potato policy,
the Permanent Secretary has formed a potato task force and plans
are at advanced stage to appoint a desk officer to deal with
potato issues”, says Kabira.
He told Africa Science News Service that the renewed attention
on potato would help improve husbandry, streamline marketing and
boost farmers’ revenues.
He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to supply clean
planting materials as well as subsidized farm inputs such as
fertilizers to boost harvest.
The government must strengthen policy and regulatory environment
to boost potato farming at all levels of value chain. Joseph
Wango`mbe, Head of Finance and Administration, Africa Population
and Health Research Centre(APHRC),observed that potato value
chain is bedevilled by a myriad challenges such as unscrupulous
middlemen, price volatility as well as glut.
He says that “Potato has a crucial role to play during famine
and there fore efforts must be stepped up in supplying clean
seeds to farmers, organise markets as well as value addition to
boost competitiveness of potato”.
He called on strengthening farmers association to boost their
clout in bargaining for better prices on the commodity.