Recapping developments in the potato industry

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The National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) looks at the current status of Kenya’s potato industry as told by CAROLINE THEURI and ESTHER KAGUORA

July 23,2018,Nairobi. In September 2015, Justice Francis Gikonyo from the High Court in Meru County suspended a law stipulating that potatoes should be packaged in bags weighing not more than 50 kilograms (kgs). This was after traders and potato farmers contested in the petition that as stakeholders being directed affected by the law they were not involved in its creation. The ruling also allowed traders andmiddlemen to revert to the use of extended bags, which weigh more than 50 kgs, contrary to the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Authorities (AFFA) Act.

“The traders pack as much potatoes into the extended bags as possible, increasing chances of rotting and lowering the quality of potatoes. The heavy weight of such packaging makes it difficult for porters to lift them, carry them or instead drag them on the ground and drop them heavily which greatlybruises and damages the tubers. ,” says Ms. Sarah Kuria, the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK) Policy, Lobby and Advocacy Officer.

“The packaging case is still in court,’’ says Ms. Mukami. Currently, the council is rallying other stakeholders like AFA towards the development of regulation for packaging of potatoes in a maximum of 50Kg bag and marketing of potatoes by weight says Mrs. KuriaAccording to industry reports, Meru County is the only region that has successfully enforced the law, a development attributed to producers refusing to sell in extended bags“We also need to develop another legal notice using the AFFA Act. This process requires stakeholders. In May, we have a National conference for all stakeholders such as farmers so that we ensure that there is ownership of the law and a legal notice in place,” she says.

Ms Kuria explains that the county governments will be key in implementation and ensuring that the tax levied on the 50 kg bags in their financial bill will be charged per weight, and not per bag. This drive towards a new packaging law is among the developments that the NPCK is trying to pursue in the potato industry.

According to Ms. Rose Manyonge, the Value Chain Development Officer, another development is that NPCK is trying to address the challenge of few certified seeds. This is by encouraging new investors, both public and private organizations to venture in seed potato production as well as encouraging current producers to increase their production capacities. NPCK has availed seed potato information in its website and together with partners developed a potato variety cataloguedescribing55 registered varieties by Kephis. MsManyonge further explains that only a quarter of the farmers access certified seeds. To improve accessibility on the certified seeds the council has a digital platform that enables one to inquire on seed availability. The SMS based platform  VIAZI SOKO informs the user on the quantity available,price per Kg,the certified seller, and their contacts,It is also used to link seed potato producers to famers as well as farmer groups to market outlets. “The seed producers are able to post their supply on the portal which is updated weekly,” she says.

According to MsManyonge, in the shortage in production of certified seedis exacerbated by the long and rigorous process taken for one to become a certified seed producer, which makes small-scale multipliers to shy away.

Another development is the potato processing of starch in Nyandarua County. MsManyonge says NPCK is trying to support farmers to sell collectively as groups such as cooperatives through its stakeholder platform. She says that the NPCKdoes this by mapping the market outlets for potato farmers that are available for both fresh table consumption and for the processing markets. MsManyonge says that NPCK has been able to link about 21 potato farmer groups to market in counties such as Meru, Nakuru andNyandarua. However she says that despite this attempt by NPCK to organize farmers into groups, it has been a challenge for farmers in these groups to meet the strict requirements for processing chips and crisp markets, based on their variety of preferences and quality of the potato tuber. For instance, while crisps require round tubers, chips need long ones.

Potato is the second most important crop in Kenya, notes the NPCK. Its data states that there are over 800,000 smallholder potato farmers and over 2 million people in the value chain. Potato in Kenya is produced on a total of 169,000 hectares of land. MsManyonge says that in Kenyapotato farming is mainly rain-dependent. This results in glut and scarce potato seasons as majority of the farmer’s plant and harvest at more or less the same time. This results in price fluctuation in the market.

One of NPCK’s partners, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) through the 2Scale Project has helped in putting up small tonnage storage facilities for some of the organized farmer groups in Nakuru, Nyandarua Nyeri and Meru Counties “It acts like the normal cold storage and the capacity ranges between 44 to 40 tonnes. This is usually a co investment between IFDC and the farmer group,” she says.

Re-organization

NPCK was established in 2011. According to Ms.Manyonge, it was necessary to re-organise the whole value chain in terms of production, logistics, storage, seed supply, and clearly defining the roles of different players such as farmers, input providers, and regulators in order to create synergy in the sub-sector.

According to the Liaison and Partnerships Officer, Ms. Esther Kaguora, over 30,000 potato farmers have been registered on the VIAZI SOKO platform from  different potato growing counties and the registration is expected to accelerate as farmers gests awareness and benefits

She says that the website has also been instrumental in avoiding duplication of resources and creating synergies among partners who are doing related potato projects in the country.

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