According to a study by S.R.M Janssens in 2013 titled ‘The value chain for seed and ware potatoes in Kenya; Opportunities for development’, Potato is grown in Kenya by approximately 500,000 small scale farmers on 120,000 hectares with an average yield of 7.7 tons per hectare. Majority of these small scale famers (approx 90%) are said to have less than 1 hectare.
It is mostly grown in the highland areas where maize has low competitive advantage with over 70% of these potatoes being grown in areas 2,100 M above sea level. At this altitude potatoes grow faster than maize and produce more energy and protein per ha per day. Such areas include those surrounding Mt. Kenya namely; Meru, Embu and Kirinyanga; parts of Laikipia and both sides of the Aberdare range which include parts of Nyeri, Muranga, Kiambaa and Nyandarua Districts. Other areas include Mau Narok, Molo, Tinderet, Nandi Escarpment and Cherangani hills. Kericho, Kisii and around Taita hills have also been reported to grow potatoes too but in small acreages.
Consumption of potatoes has been increasing with the increasing urbanization and the growth of the fast food industry. It is approximated that over 60% of the fresh produce grown and traded by urban traders in Kenya is absorbed by fast food outlets such as restaurants and street market stalls (the mama mbogas)
For the last 5 years, production of potatoes has staggered around 2.3 M to 2.9 M tones recording a 9% increase from 2.3 M tons in 2009 to 2.5 M tones in 2013. During this time, seed planted rose from 104,000 tons to 108,000 tones recording a 4% rise. Farmers have put into consideration this produce amidst the growing demand and this has seen the total land area under potato cultivation rise by 12.3% in the last 5 years.
Figure 1: Production of Potatoes in Kenya (FAOSTAT-2014)
From the above statistics, production of potatoes has been rising; however, this has been from increasing total land area cultivated. Calculated productivity from the above data shows that it has fallen by 17.4 between 2010 and 2013. This is as shown below.
Figure 2: Potato productivity in Kenya (FAOSTAT-2014)
Despite farmers increasing acreage in production of potatoes, statistics indicate that yield per acre is reducing and this implies that either the production technology being used is getting obsolete or it is not being used efficiently.
According to Janssens, production of potatoes in Kenya is characterized by a couple of constraints. First of all, production is bi-modal, that is, it is only produced twice a year following the rainfall pattern of Kenya. Around July to August period, potatoes are usually in high volumes and fetch low prices while in December, April and May they are usually in low supply fetching higher prices for farmers involved.
Due to continuous production of potatoes in the same piece of land, soil degradation has been inevitable. Fertilizer application has been done below the recommended rates with the most common one being Di-Ammonium Phosphate. It should be noted that fertilizer leads to increased soil fertility.
Another major constraint lies in poor use of certified seeds. About 1% of the planted area only has recorded use of certified seeds. The other plantations are done using seeds raised locally through retention from previous harvest which farmers obtain from their stores or buy from local markets, friends and relatives. Yield reduces with each successive generation.
Other constraints that have affected productivity of potatoes in Kenya include, diseases such as brown rot and late blight, lack of crop rotation where farmers cultivate potatoes in the same piece of land over and over again, poor storage facilities and lack of enough capital for capital intensive production which can see their overall production increase as result of employing motorized machinery.
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Image source; Fresh food central 2014