Potato Production Set to Increase as 52 Varieties Released by KEPHIS and Breeders

Kitale - Trans Nzoia County is Kenya's bread basket, known for growing predominantly maize, which is Kenya's staple food. However, maize production in the area and in other counties has faced pests and disease challenges. Top of mind is the fall army worm that has affected many counties and the Maize Lethal Disease that affected the crop a few years ago.

It is against this background that KEPHIS and potato breeders are promoting the production of potato to increase our food availability.

From 2013, KEPHIS in collaboration with local and international breeders has released 52 potato varieties. These include Ambition, Laura, Lady Amarilla, Derby, Markies, Sagitta, Saviola, Musica, Royal, Jelly, El Mundo, Faluka, Challenger, Evora, Panamera, Rodeo, Sifra, Voyager, UNICA, Konjo, Carolus, Zafira, Milva, Connect, Sarpo Mira, Mayan Gold, among others. However, shangi controls about 70% of the market.
Top potato producing counties are Nyandarua, Meru, Nyeri, Kiambu, Taita Taveta, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Elgeyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot; other potato producing counties include Kisii, Nyamira, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Baringo, Nandi, Laikipia and Kericho. Upcoming potential potato producing counties include Machakos, Makueni, Embu, Kajiado, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kwale and Nairobi. The leading production counties are Nyandarua (29.8 %), Nakuru (18.9 %) and Elgeyo Marakwet (16.2 %). Farmers harvest 60-80 bags of 110 kilograms per acre while small holder farmers harvest 30-50 bags of 110 kilograms per acre; this against a potential production of 150 bags per hectare for a 110 kilogram bag.

Kenya’s population currently stands at 48.3 million with a growth rate of 2.6% per annum. The population is estimated to reach 65 million in 2030 and by 2060, we shall be close to 100 million. With this population, maize cannot meet the food demand. Conversely, potato is a short cycle crop, highly productive in terms of area, time and moisture. Since maize takes longer to mature, potato can tie over as food to the population. Due to diminishing land sizes and diseases, potato production is moving to the North Rift where pockets of extensive land still exist. These lands have been under cereals and hence less presence of potato diseases. Hence the reason the field day was held in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County.
Kenya’s middle class is growing and have disposable incomes to spend. A lot of that money goes towards buying chips or French fries. Many international hotel chains and restaurants have set shop in the country and have quality standards to adhere to, hence need suitable potato varieties to produce their food. The released varieties meet some of these quality standards; there are also table varieties for chips and crisps. This in essence means that these hotels and restaurants do not have to import potato; business people can multiply the released varieties. The released varieties are resistant to diseases other than Bacterial Wilt. Released varieties have also created the need for elevated technologies. For instance, using machines for planting, harvesting and development of cold storage facilities.

Susan Mureithi, a potato breeder (front, 2nd right) explains to Agriculture CS Willy Bett(holding potatoes)the process of potato multiplication. This was during the Potato Awareness Field Day at KEPHIS Kitale regional office. KEPHIS MD Dr Esther Kimani(left) and other stakeholders look on

Agriculture CS Willy Bett (holding potatoes) with KEPHIS MD Dr Esther Kimani (3rd left) speaking to Mr. Kibet of Kisima Farm on their potato varieties during the potato awareness field day held at KEPHIS Kitale regional offices

Some potato varieties on display during the potato awareness field day at KEPHIS Kitale regional office.

Members of the public sample chips from various potato varieties during the potato awareness field day at KEPHIS Kitale regional office.

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