KENYA – Local potato farmers in Kenya have shifted to planting the Memphis potato variety, desirable by the American fast-food restaurant chain, KFC, to cut off importation and foster local supply.

Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Co-operatives & Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises Simon Chelugui said the move follows approvals from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Chelugui noted that the government is keen to aggregate farmers in the country for linkages to markets in line with the government’s economic model.

In the future, there is a likelihood that the government will bar KFC and other multinational restaurant chains from importing pre-sliced potatoes in a policy shift.

“After the talks with KFC last year on where they source their potatoes, they gave us the specific seed quality they want, and we were able to import it. Farmers have started planting, and we expect that soon, we will source locally all potatoes used in KFC and all the food chains in the country,” the CS said.

“This will mean more money to farmers; it means saving the country’s dollars and also promotion of our industrialization of our SMEs.”

In January 2022, KFC Kenya announced that it had run out of chips imported largely from Egypt, and this elicited sharp criticism from stakeholders in the potato value chain.

The fast-food chain, which has been operating in Kenya since 2011, has been insisting that the local potato varieties do not meet its international standards and taste.

KFC, at the time of approach by the government, said it was on a journey to identify a local supplier, who has the processing, tracking, and cold chain management capability to supply its chain with pre-sliced potatoes.

Memphis variety, imported to Kenya, is said to be the high-yielding, red-skinned type with long dormancy, making them suitable for international markets because of their longer shelf life.

Considering the negotiations between the food chain and the government, the CS noted that the government has invested Sh300 million in building cold storage facilities in Meru, Olakalou, and Kisii to support the industrialization of farming.

The facilities are expected to help farmers cut post-harvest losses and boost the government’s economic transformation agenda.

“You people in potato MSMEs should go to those cold storage facilities and begin to chop those potatoes into sizes they (KFC) want, package, and deliver them because we now have the breed that they wanted,” the CS underscored. “We will stop this business of potatoes going to waste in Kenya.”

Recently, Kenya formed a new potato consortium that aims to boost farmers’ access to farming inputs and markets.

The initiative will be implemented for two years and aims to increase the yield of the tuber to 14 tonnes per hectare against a current level of around 7 to 10 tonnes. It also plans to reduce post-harvest losses recorded in the sector by 50%.

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