KENYA – The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has partnered with Syngenta Foundation, a not-for-profit organization supporting the productivity of small-scale farmers, to boost potato production in the country.
The collaboration will be centred mainly around the improvement of the supply of certified quality seeds to the farmers, a real challenge for the actors of the sector.
According to reports by Business Daily, it will involve increasing high quality certified potato seed availability to farmers by 25 percent through rapid multiplication, increased field seed bulking, and capacity building of commercial seed growers.
The key target is to increase local potato sales at high-end chain restaurants in Kenya, which have for years relied on imports to meet their needs as the locally produced ones do not have the required standards.
“Potato is a major crop in Kenya but it doesn’t get the attention that it requires because farmers are still lacking access to certified seeds,” said Tony Gathungu, global seed head at Syngenta.
Head of crops at Kalro, Lusike Wasilwa said farmers should start planting certified seed that is clean, to stop multiplying of diseases and pests on the fields.
“When farmers grow clean seeds, it stops the multiplication of pathogen on the farms,” said Dr Lusike.
The partnership is seeking to help local farmers produce high end potatoes to enable them access the local markets, especially the franchises which are very keen on quality.
This will be achieved through capacitating seed companies to breed and distribute high quality potato tubers.
Under the deal, the approved entities are expected to distribute around 240,000 high-yielding hybrid varieties to growers in all tuber-growing areas, with a target of boosting production from the current two million tonnes to 10 million tonnes.
According to the breeders, the hybrid variety has a potential to produce up to 180 bags of 50 kg per acre as compared to the traditional variety that produces an average of 40 bags.
The initiative also targets to increase potato consumption due to its high nutritional value.
Fast food franchises operating in Kenya have been slapped with a 30 percent duty on imports of potatoes used to make French fries, a move that will significantly raise the cost of the end product.
Major food joints rely on imports from as far as Egypt and South Africa for the potatoes they use as most of the ones that are grown locally do not meet required standards.
This partnership builds up on efforts by the state-owned research company to boost productivity in the potato sector.
Last year, KALRO entered into a contractual partnership with Kevian Kenya, one of the leading fruit juice producers, to produce high yielding potato seed varieties to meet growing demand.
KALRO has licensed the Thika-based firm to commercialise five of its hybrid potatoes seeds on a 15-year contract to boost production of the right variety required by multinational franchises for making French fries, who have relied on imports to meet their customer needs.
The partnership will see Kevian, the makers of Afia and Pick N Peel juices, pay KALRO royalties at a rate of 2.5 percent of their total annual sales from the potatoes.
The partnership aims to benefit 50,000 farmers in potato growing regions in the country.