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Bid to improve Kenya potato sector

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 28 – Stakeholders in the potato sub sector have proposed setting up a Potato Council that will provide a platform through which farmers can exchange views on the challenges and potential of the industry.

Deputy Program Manager of the Promotion of Private Sector Development in Agriculture Dr Eberhard Krain said on Tuesday that the council which should largely be private-sector driven would address the shortcomings that have resulted in the poor performance of the Sh10 billion industry.

“It should work as a forum to inform the public and private sectors on what to do. It should be an autonomous body, possibly in the form of an association. We don’t think it should be state or parastatal,” he emphasised.

The formation of the Council is one of the recommendations contained in the draft Seed Potato Master Plan, which seeks to find conducive arrangements to meet the demand for quality potato seed in the country.

The low availability of certified seeds together with the lack of a policy to guide the industry are some of the challenges that have been blamed for the fairly reduced crop productivity that has been experienced in the country over the last 10 years.

Statistics show that although the area under potato production in the country has increased from 98,000 hectares (ha) to 130,000 ha in that period, productivity has remained low, at less than 10 tonnes per ha against a potential of 30 to 40 tonnes per ha.

This is despite potatoes being the second most important food crop after maize with the potential to largely address food security in the country. Annual production is estimated to be at one million tonnes.

Speaking during a workshop on the Master plan, Agriculture Secretary Dr Wilson Songa also observed that there’s need for the government to avail adequate land to boost potato research and certified seed production.

His remarks came after revelations that the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) have both lost over 19,000 acres for certified seed production and research due to illegal land allocation.

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“Whatever land that is available, I can assure you that we are now making sure that we don’t lose any. We will make sure that what we have now is well utilised and also ensure that it is safe for now and in the future,” he assured.

While pointing out that there’s inadequate funding for potato research while insufficient research capacity of personnel and facilities has hampered the development of new varieties, Dr Songa said the government needs to increase the funding and research capacity of KARI, which undertakes this kind of survey.

He however expressed optimism that with the government’s commitment to increase budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector to eight percent of the GDP, research funding would be enhanced.

The Agriculture Secretary also disclosed that the ministry was working with the ADC to revitalise cold rooms to facilitate cold storage room facilities to support seed production.

Dr Songa said the implementation of all these measures would go a long way in giving the crop the prominence it deserves.

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