Experts in the Potato Sector have revealed that Kenya has the capacity to produce between 8 -10 million metric tonnes of potato annually, under a good condition.
According to stakeholders who met at a workshop to deliberate on the key issues facing the crop and develop an action plan on the way forward, Kenya has the capacity to become the largest market leader in the region in potato production, whilst ensuring enough production for its own population.
This goal can be attained through increased innovation, mechanization and large-scale production but at the moment, Kenya still lags behind Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, and Egypt.
The average annual potato production in Kenya stands between 2 to 3 million metric tonnes. In 2017, for instance, Kenya produced 1.15 million metric tonnes of sweet potatoes with 1.036 million metric tonnes consumed as food while the rest went to waste.
In 2018, Kenya exported 4385 kilograms of sweet potato to Norway (4075) and UK (310).
The current production average yield stands at about 8 tonnes/Ha which is lower than benchmarks of 20-40 tonnes/Ha.
Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya Chief Executive Officer Hosea Machuki disclosed that Tanzania was doing much better than Kenya with an average yield of 20 tonnes per hectare. Adding that other countries like Ireland have average yields of over 40 tonnes per hectare due to better varieties and management.
Irish and Sweet potatoes are important food crops in Kenya poised to significantly contribute to the food security component of the government’s big 4 agenda.
Already, the government developed the National Potato strategy 2016 – 2020 and Potato Produce and Market Bill 2014, which are the two key documents that provide policy direction in the sector.
Speaking at the workshop, Mr. Okisegere Ojepat, Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya said that the demand for sweet potatoes is increasing countrywide with entrepreneurs venturing in sweet potato processing. Increased production, therefore, presents an opportunity for farmers to improve their food security situation and income from the sales of surplus.
“The government needs to urgently look into the budgetary allocation for the sector which currently stands at about 3 percent, which is much lower than the Maputo Protocol which requires African states to set aside at least 10 percent of their national budget towards financing agricultural sector if the country intends to be food secure by 2022,” said Mr. Okisegere Ojepat.
In addition to budgetary constraints, the sector continues to face other challenges including low production of seed which stands at currently only 5 percent against the sector’s target of 10 percent; high costs of inputs like fertilizers and lack of proper marking and guidelines on standards.
“We would like Kenya Plant health inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) to be more acceptable to the sector and to do more in terms of market expansion and quality control,” Mr. Ojepat said.
Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALR) Director for Crop Systems Dr. Lusike Wasilwa also said the Potato sector would do better with increased research, but noted that KALR was limited by the amount of funding it receives from the government to support research.
“Potato is the second in line in terms of staple food in the country and therefore the sector needs additional funding in research to come up with a variety that is high yielding and disease resistant. We urge the government to increase allocation for research for the agricultural sector to at least 2 percent,” Dr. Wasilwa said.
Sweet potato is widely grown on a small scale mainly in subsistence farming. It is a low-input crop making it ideal for many smallholder households.