The International Day of Potato is celebrated on May 30th of each year. It’s a global initiative to raise awareness about the importance of potatoes in achieving food security and nutrition goals. It’s also an opportunity to promote sustainable potato production and consumption practices worldwide.

National Potato Conference kenya

The first-ever International Day of Potato was celebrated in 2024. The theme for that year was “Harvesting diversity, feeding hope”. This theme focused on the contribution of the potato to the lives of producers and consumers.

Potatoes are a nutritious and versatile food source that is eaten by more than one billion people around the world. They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Potatoes can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed, or roasted. They can also be used to make french fries, potato chips, and vodka.

Last week, Nyandarua County was abuzz with activity as we celebrated the International Day of Potato alongside the National Potato Conference. This event brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, seed multipliers, agrochemical companies, post-harvest solution providers, regulators, processors, development partners, and NGOs. The conference, convened by NPCK Kenya, was a testament to the significance of the potato industry in Kenya and the collaborative efforts to address its challenges and opportunities.

National Potato Conference in Nyandarua County

Last week, the vibrant agricultural hub of Nyandarua County came alive as we celebrated the International Day of Potato during the National Potato Conference. This event brought together a diverse array of stakeholders, creating a fertile ground for discussions and collaborations aimed at advancing Kenya’s potato industry. From leading research institutions to innovative farmers, the conference highlighted the challenges and opportunities within this crucial sector.

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A Gathering of Minds and Resources

The conference saw participation from various sectors, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the potato value chain:

  • Research Institutions: Esteemed bodies such as the International Potato Center (CIP), Egerton University, KALRO TIGONI, and ICIPE (International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology) were present, showcasing their latest research and innovations.
  • Seed Multipliers: Prominent seed multipliers like Kisima Farm Limited, Agrico Suerra, and NYS played a key role in discussing seed quality and availability.
  • Agrochemical Companies: Industry leaders such as Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, OCP AFRICA, and Yara UK provided insights into sustainable farming practices and pest management.
  • Post-Harvest Solutions and Regulators: Organizations like Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) emphasized the importance of post-harvest handling and regulatory compliance.
  • Processors: Companies including Sereni Fries and Wedgehut Foods Ltd highlighted the demand for quality potatoes and the processing potential within the industry.
  • Development Partners and NGOs: The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), FAO, and NPCK Kenya (the event conveners) discussed development projects and support mechanisms for farmers.
  • Farmers: A large contingent of farmers from regions such as Nyandarua, Narok, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Bomet, and Nakuru attended, providing ground-level insights and experiences.

1st National Potato Conference kenya

Key Highlights and Takeaways

1. The Economic Significance of Potatoes

One of the most striking revelations was the scale of the potato industry’s impact on livelihoods. With over 800,000 farmers cultivating potatoes, at least 2.5 million Kenyans derive their income from this crop. Potatoes are the second most important crop after maize in Kenya, underscoring their vital role in food security and economic stability. Despite this, the potential for growth remains largely untapped, suggesting a promising future for those willing to invest and innovate in this sector.

2. Untapped Opportunities Across the Value Chain

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The conference highlighted significant opportunities in the upstream, midstream, and downstream segments of the potato value chain. From improving seed quality and farming practices to enhancing processing capabilities and market access, there are numerous avenues for growth. Wanjiru Mambo, CEO of Wedgehut Foods Ltd, pointed out a glaring gap in supply, stating her company needs at least 3 tonnes of potatoes daily but often falls short. This demand-supply mismatch presents a lucrative opportunity for farmers and investors alike.

3. Engaging Youth in Agriculture

A concerning observation was the low participation of young farmers in the potato industry. During a quick poll on the second day of the conference, only 8 youthful farmers were identified among the attendees. Given the sector’s potential, this underrepresentation is alarming. Engaging youth in agriculture is crucial for the sector’s sustainability and innovation, and efforts must be made to attract and support young farmers.

4. Addressing Bacterial Wilt and Nematode Issues

Bacterial wilt, a persistent soil-borne disease affecting potatoes and other Solanaceae crops, remains a significant challenge. The conference underscored the need for effective solutions, as highlighted by the anecdote of a researcher who, after 20 years of work on the problem, shifted careers to become a musician. However, hope lies in potential solutions such as the use of Managu (African nightshade) to combat nematodes, as advised by Dr. Solveig Haukeland from ICIPE.

Looking Ahead: Investing in Agribusiness

The conference reinforced the notion that farming, particularly in the potato sector, is a viable and lucrative side hustle. A 2019 research indicated that farming is the number one side hustle in Kenya. For professionals seeking to invest in agribusiness but unsure of which value chain to enter, the potato industry offers a compelling opportunity.

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Conclusion

The National Potato Conference in Nyandarua County was a resounding success, bringing together stakeholders from across the potato value chain to share knowledge, address challenges, and explore opportunities. As we continue to celebrate the potato and its vital role in Kenya’s agriculture, it is clear that the future holds immense potential for growth and innovation. Whether you are a farmer, researcher, investor, or simply passionate about agriculture, the potato industry offers a rich field of opportunities waiting to be harvested.

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