Kenyan farmers are facing a shortage of certified potato seed following the rejection of 78 percent of the planting materials that had been imported last year.
The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) rejected 221 tonnes of potato seed out of the total 282 tonnes that had been shipped into the country for multiplication ahead of this year’s planting season.
The potato seeds were rejected after they were found to have been infected by a harmful bacterial disease.
Shortage of high quality seed could translate to lower production of potatoes, which is Kenya’s second most popular starch after maize.
“When imported seed are rejected, obviously this will impact on production and create a shortage. This trend can only be reversed if we increase our capacity in developing our own planting material,” said Dr Lusike Wasilwa, a senior scientist with Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).
The long-rain season is expected to start any time now, when the potato seed will be needed.
Kenya’s seed demand stands at 30,000 tonnes annually but the country only produces 6,700 tonnes, with most farmers recycling part of the harvests from the previous seasons to use as seed.
The use of low-quality seed has been blamed for the potato shortage that the country occasionally faces.
Kenya produces about two million tonnes of potatoes annually even though it has the potential to yield up to eight million tonnes.
“The country has potential to produce between eight and ten million tonnes annually under ideal conditions,” says Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya Chief Executive Officer Hosea Machuki.
“We have the capacity to become the market leader in the region in potato production. This goal can be attained through increased innovation, mechanisation and large-scale production”.
Dr Wasilwa says the government needs to fund research to boost potato production in the country.
“The sector needs additional funding in research to come up with varieties that are high yielding and disease-resistant. We urge the government to increase allocation for research for the agricultural sector to at least two percent,” she said.
She argued that Kenya should stop imports of all potato seed and instead pump more money toward research to enable local production of seed and avert diseases and pests that come with importation.
The country imports about 400 tonnes annually that is multiplied at government institutions and distributed to farmers as seed.
Okisegere Ojepat, the Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya, said the sector continues to face other challenges besides low production of seed.
These include high costs of inputs like fertilisers and lack of proper guidelines on standards.