Columnists

See beyond potatoes in the KFC saga

poyato

A farmer harvesting potatoes in farmland. FILE PHOTO | NMG

bitangendemo-ima

Summary

  • Indeed, no politician has made any comment regarding the lack of quality potatoes to make chips and how that can translate to job creation.
  • Potato which was brought to East Africa by British farmers in 1880s has grown both as a staple food and as a source of income to a majority of farmers.

Last week, KFC’s story of running out of potatoes for chips dominated the media. But, as usual, it ended there without any proactive action being taken to address the problem.

Indeed, no politician has made any comment regarding the lack of quality potatoes to make chips and how that can translate to job creation. In the political class’s eyes, it was just a logistic hitch.

But there is a bigger picture here.

Potato which was brought to East Africa by British farmers in 1880s has grown both as a staple food and as a source of income to a majority of farmers. And it ranks as the country's No. 2 food crop, after maize.

But despite all these, the sector has been plagued by problems such as lack of clear proper seed, pest, and disease management, marketing systems and policies.

A report, Seed Potato Industry Diagnostic- Increasing Seed Potato Availability in Kenya: Priority Investments and Policy Actions, by the World Bank reveals that in Kenya, total potato volumes are far below the national 2022 target of 2.5 million tonnes per year, with 2017 data indicating that the country produced 1.5 million tonnes.

Though there have been efforts to ramp up local production of the highly demanded processing varieties, the volumes do not meet demand since these varieties have not been widely adopted by farmers.

And they require intensive agronomic practices. There is also not enough planting material available.

Higher education

The report highlights two main seed production systems in Kenya: formal and informal. Formal seed undergoes seed certification by Kephis, following Kenyan laws, and involves Kalro, Kephis and certified seed growers.

The informal seed system produces outside the legal system.

Therefore, the majority of potatoes in Kenya are produced informally in spite of what the experts say.

This, in my view, is an indictment of not just the African leadership but the private sector and academia.

Virtually all of our broke higher education institutions have land, labour, and capital to grow quality potatoes for these restaurants and even export. But to exploit such an opportunity is a wider problem because everything consumed in Africa in some way is imported.

We must, therefore, look at the bigger picture rather than just focusing on a small segment like potatoes.

Africa imports fish, beef, chicken, cereals and more. The current food import bill of $50 billion in Africa is projected to grow to $125 billion in 2025.

In addition to the increasing import bill, Africa is rapidly deindustrialising. The broken supply chains do not allow for sustained value addition to Africa’s produce.

As a result, between 30 and 50 percent of food produced is lost or wasted along the supply chain every year.

With such massive land and labour, Africa could feed the world.

Research & development

Tiny countries like the Netherlands which is about the size of Kitui County (30,430 km²) in Kenya feed the world from reclaimed land.

In 2020, the 17.44 million Dutch people exported $108 billion of food that was slightly higher than Kenya’s GDP of $99 billion and about one percent of her GDP of $912 billion.

In other words, Kitui County could feed Kenya and export the surplus to other African countries.

To improve agricultural productivity and add value to our produce, the Government, higher education institutions and private sector must work closely to change land-use policies, develop globally competitive skills, invest in research and development, and encourage innovation to meet customer expectations.