Potato production across the country is gradually on the decline owing to the inadequacy of certified seeds.
Even with the crop being the second most staple food that Kenyans depend on, stakeholders have complained about low productivity.
According to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), the production levels currently stand at 2 percent.
Kephis Chief Executive, Esther Kimani, notes that the majority of potato farmers in Kenya recycle potato seeds, something which is in itself a limiting factor in terms of enduring climatic changes thereby leading to low production.
Ms. Kimani added that the production has stagnated at only 7 tons per hectare against a potential of 40 tons per hectare.
“The decline in output is caused by a shortage of certified seeds, poor agronomic practices, pests, and diseases,” she said.
Close to a million farmers across the country grow potatoes, which contributes over 50 billion shillings to the country’s economy every year. Nevertheless, most of these farmers grow them in small scale and they produce a total of 83 percent of the national production.
Kephis, however, stated that there are numerous initiatives being conducted by value chain players to ensure that the gap is reduced.
“Kephis, in collaboration with potato breeders locally and international, has in the recent past made considerable progress in availing high yielding, market-oriented varieties that can be exploited by farmers to satisfy most of the market requirements,” said the Kephis chief.
Kephis ascertained that substantial progress has been made since 2012 after Kenya and the Netherlands signed a bilateral agreement that led to the evaluation and the release of more potato varieties.
To this day, a total of 51 varieties have been authoritatively released in Kenya including 33 varieties from Dutch breeding companies, 17 varieties from Kenyan breeders, and 1 from Scotland.
This shows that Kenyan farmers have a lot of varieties to choose from and they could boost production by far, but Ms. Kimani says that only “602,450 kilograms of the seeds produce have been imported since 2012.”
Several varieties have been developed over the years by National Potato Research Station (NPRS) in conjunction with the International Potato Centre (CIP). The varieties include Kerr’s Pink, Tigoni, Roslyn Tana, Annet, Kenya Baraka, Asante, Roslyn Eburu, and Shangi.
During the last workshop for potato stakeholders held in Nairobi, there was a call for bold and strategic plans to curb the issues facing the sector with the participants also calling for the potato market share to be increased in foreign markets.
Kenya’s low production of potato seed, which stands at only 5 percent against the targeted 10 percent also remains a big challenge. Similarly, high costs of inputs such as fertilizers and improper marketing still affect the industry.
According to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, Kenya’s annual potato production stands at between 2 and 3 million tons.
The country produced 1.15 million tons of sweet potatoes in 2017. Out of this capacity, a total of 1.036 million tons was consumed as food while the rest was wasted despite the country being able to produce eight million tons annually.