KENYA – American fast-food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), locally operated through franchisee Kuku Foods East Africa in Kenya, has announced it has run out of potato fries, sighting delays from its overseas suppliers.

To this end, the fried chicken major is now offering its customers other substitutes such as ugali, coleslaw, snack buns, cobs, extra chicken among others.

In a tweet, the restaurant outlet stated, “Fam it was truly a Furaha (Happy) December. Mlikula sherehe with your KFC faves (You celebrated with your favourite KFC dish). Ya’ll loved our chips a little too much, and we’ve run out.

“Sorry! Our team is working hard to resolve the issue. In the meantime, here are some SWAP options for combo meals if you are craving our Kuku.”

The communique has elicited heated debates on the socials with some questioning why the chain would run out of potatoes while there are Kenyan farmers producing the crop locally.

Despite having operations in the East African nation for over 10 years, KFC does not source potatoes locally and according to reports, it imports its potatoes from Egypt, the Netherlands, South Africa among others.

Chatting with the Business Daily, the firm’s Chief Executive for East Africa Jacques Theunissen highlighted that it cannot bypass the approval procedures to allow local farmers to supply to fill in the gap.

“The reason we cannot buy local at the moment is all suppliers need to go through the global QA approval process and we cannot bypass that even if we run out to ensure that our food is safe for consumption by our customers,” he said.

This denies local farmers whose product goes to waste during harvesting seasons the chance to reap from the lucrative tenders, especially during shortages like this.

Weighing in on the matter, the Governor of Nyandarua County, Kenya’s leading potato producing region, Mr Francis Kimemia,  highlighted that it is “very unfortunate” that KFC cannot source potatoes from local farmers most of whom are grappling with marketing challenges for their products.

According to the Governor, the potato sector in Nyandarua is worth an estimated Ksh.10 billion (us$83M), with an annual production of around 550,000 metric tonnes.

The governor highlighted that his administration is willing to engage with KFC on how to assist Nyandarua County farmers get market for their produce.

“My Government is ready to engage with stakeholders – including KFC – on the best possible strategy to assist our farmers.

“We are ready to facilitate a direct engagement with farmers who can be contracted to give quality potatoes. Such an arrangement will be a win-win situation for both parties,” he said.

Local players at the fore to change the narrative

Potato has become the second most important food crop in Kenya after maize, grown by 800,000 small-scale farmers and generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along the value chain. It is estimated to contribute more than Ksh50 billion (us$441m) to the Kenyan economy.

In a bid to improve the quality of the local produce and expand its market share in the face of growing numbers of multi-national food outlets, both public and private players are investing in research and development initiatives.

In the official communique, Mr Kimemia highlighted that his government has been involved in rigorous capacity-building among farmers into producing quality potatoes, backed by partners such as the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC).

“In conjunction with development partners, my administration has also introduced new exotic varieties in order to provide a choice between table processing and processing varieties,” he said.

The county head further revealed that a Ksh. 100m (US$883,000), 1000 metric tonnes cold storage facility in Ol’Kalou is almost complete, complementing the Ol’Jororok tissue culture potato seed multiplication unit.

In 2020, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (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.

Under the agreement, 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.

Meanwhile, SimpliFine, a newly formed food production company in Kenya, is raking in investments at its recently acquired potato processing factory, in a bid to increase local supply of frozen potatoes.

“A lot of frozen potato chips are imported because there are specific standards and formulations that the big quick service restaurants that have set base locally are asking for.

“We are in talks with some of the global brands and we are starting to see the QSRs becoming more flexible to work with local partners like us.

“That is a great start to the journey where people are looking within the country, as opposed to assuming that the import model is going to be sustainable,” said Steven Carlyon Managing Director of SimpliFine during a sit down with the Food Business Africa team.

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