To reuse potato seeds, pick the best

Friday February 24 2017

Wachira Kaguongo, the CEO of National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK).

Wachira Kaguongo, the CEO of National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK). PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BRIAN OKINDA
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Wachira Kaguongo, the CEO of National Potato Council of Kenya, spoke to Brian Okinda on all you want know about potatoes, in particular the kinds of seeds to use and how you can profit from your agribusiness

Most farmers are still selling their potatoes in extended bags as dictated by traders despite change of law, which set the packaging weight at 50kg, why is this the case?

In 2014, the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary gazetted a law that banned the use of the extended bags.

However, some traders went to court to stop the implementation, leading to its suspension until the case is determined.

The law was good for farmers but now the packaging has reverted to the old, extended bags weighing from 70kg to over 170kg as the case drags on.

We are again seeing a new trend emerging, that of use of extended 50kg bags, but we are creating awareness on the importance of selling the commodity in prescribed weight.

What is the council doing to provide farmers with certified seeds and storage facilities?
There is an acute shortage of potato seeds but we are working to address the challenge by encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in seed potato production.

Our partners Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, International Potato Centre, Kephis, Ministry of Agriculture and Kalro have joined hands to ensure we have sufficient production of seeds.

According to your organisation, there has been a disconnect along the potato value chain, whereby farmers had no idea of what the market needs in terms of varieties, on the other hand, processors have no idea where to find the products, is this still the case?
Over 90 per cent of the potato produced mainly goes to the open market. This is because many farmers don’t target processors.

Currently, many farmers grow the Shangi variety which is easily available and marketable, has short dormancy and matures faster but we have other varieties like Tigoni, Dutch, Sherekea and Kenya Mpya.

The situation has put farmers at the mercy of brokers, who offer market for produce as they earn super profits.

Processors want produce with uniform sizes and variety, deep eyes, oval in shape for chips making and circular potatoes for crisps-making. They should also have high dry matter of up to 21-22 per cent.

Some farmers still use recycled seeds, what advice can you give them?

Over 90 per cent of farmers use recycled seeds and if they did not, we would have a crisis.

However, the downside is that farmers mostly select the small potatoes in their harvest to use as seeds. But it is these small tubers that have all negative qualities like diseases, pests, poor growth vigour, and low maturity sizes among others.

In the industry, we have four types of ‘seeds’ namely certified, which are what we recommend for use, clean seed which is good for use but lower in quality compared to the certified seed, as it has not been inspected for diseases.

Then there is positively selected seed, which the farmer picks while the crop is still on the farm on the basis of how the parent crop looks, and lastly there is the farmers’ seeds, which are the small tubers collected by the farmer from his harvest for the next planting season.

It is advisable to use certified seeds. However, while it is acceptable to use clean seed, incorporate certified seeds from time to time in the production programme.

What is the council doing to fight pests like the potato cyst nematode (PCN) and diseases like potato blight?

We still do not have enough information regarding PCN impact but we are working on it. A full report of a study conducted last year will be released soon.

Chemical companies and the Pest Control Products Board are also working with us in creating awareness of suitable pesticides to curb the diseases and pests.

Why are potatoes considered junk food?

The mode of preparation of a food largely determines how people perceive it, which is why chips and crisps are considered junk.

Potatoes are a good source of nutrients such as Vitamins C, B1, B3 and B6, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, proteins and antioxidant properties. They are also low in fat.

Informing consumers about nutritional values of potatoes, its proper preparation and encouraging its consumption in households will make it widely consumed.