Kenya bets on new potato variety to up exports

The Kenyan government is set to import a high yielding disease resistant potato variety from Netherlands which will assist the over 800,000 farmers expand their market as hotels and processors shun local varieties due to their poor quality.

The local varieties have also been blamed for the perennial seed shortage in the country, which has seen farmers using seeds from previous harvest, most which are sick, a move that has fueled the spread of diseases and pests and ultimately low yields. Farmers also use the traditional method of borrowing seeds from neighbours and relatives year on and some have never bought potato seed.

“Kenyans have attachment to potatoes but the industry is not moving to where it is supposed to hence the need for a seed system. We are working in partnership with the Netherlands on a project that will start with selected seed potatoes and gradually extend to the rest of the production chain,” said Agriculture PS Romano Kiome.Potato farming in Netherlands is one of the most successful in the world and some African countries have exploited this success which Kenya is looking forward to emulate to boost productivity.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services managing director Dr. James Onsando however said the body will ensure the imported seeds do not come with diseases that may affect local crops. "KEPHIS has a disease emergency team that is able to deal with any kind of disease that may come with the seed potatoes. We have also carried out pest risk analysis for the seed".

Netherlands controls 70 percent of the world potato trade as they have a certified potato unit and it is also in Netherlands that countries producing the most potatoes in the world get their seeds according to FAO statistics receive their seeds from.

For instance, production in South Africa, Egypt and Brazil is gradually going up. Countries that do not source their seeds from Netherlands get about nine tonnes a year while those that do get a yield of 19 tonnes per year.
The project is timely in Kenya especially now when the country is working towards diversification of food production and food security is high on the agenda. Potatoes are the second most important crop after maize, employing about 2.5 million people across the entire production chain. However, low production of the crop has been blamed on poor seed.