Making progress chip by chip with KALRO Potato varieties

Making progress chip by chip with KALRO Potato varieties

By Steven Mulanda

The recent shortage of raw material for making take-away potato chips by one of the major multinational outlets in Nairobi focused the attention on availability of potato varieties in Kenya for processing purposes. According to Dr. Moses Nyongesa, Centre Director KALRO Tigoni, the center has developed numerous varieties that adaptable to Kenyan agro-ecological zones and have good processing qualities.

“Persistent narratives about lack of processing potato varieties in Kenya are not based on facts. Over the years, KALRO has developed many varieties for various uses including processing chips, crisps, roasting, baking or mashing. Some of these varieties are; Shangi, Unica, Kenya Mpya, Sherekea, Tigoni, Asante, Dutch Robijn, Kenya Mavuno, Kenya Karibu, Desiree among others. Unfortunately, with the exception of Shangi, many farmers and consumers are yet to benefit from many of these varieties. However, if taken up by the seed companies followed by farmers, they could benefit the industry. The downside of over dependence on one variety is the risk of shortage of potato supply in the Country and the likelihood of food shortage, if the production of that variety encounters unforeseen challenge like a new disease outbreak. The upward is that farmers and consumers have an expanded scope numerous varieties to choose from and a natural safeguard against disruptions that may arise due to a pest or disease attack on the popular variety,” Dr. Nyongesa stated.

Each KALRO variety has its unique attributes. For example, Unica has long oval-shaped tubers, good for producing long ‘fingers’ of chips and usually that is what the fast food joints require. The golden yellow appearance of fried chips from Unica variety is what consumers prefer. The variety is easy to produce because; 1) it bulks fast and can escape drought that follows short rain season; 2) It requires less intense spraying program against diseases such as blight and saves the farmer the cost of incurring more on fungicides and farm labor of spraying the crop. 3) Unica can be stored up to 8 months in cold storage or around 3 months while not in cold storage without deteriorating in quality.

“Variety Tigoni on the other hand, is high yielding and produces good chips for both fresh chips and frozen fries. It has been a leading variety for processing into frozen fries for the export market.” explained Judith Oyoo, a research scientist at KALRO Tigoni.

Shangi, the most popular variety in Kenya, has dominated the market for over a decade. It is preferred by farmers because it sprouts fast and can be used to produce several crops in a year. It is good for chips and fries. Consumers prefer it because of the taste and appearance of its chips and crisps.

“Shangi became popular with farmers in 2005 ahead of its official release in the country in 2015.” Dr. Nyongesa affirmed.

Kenya Mpya, another KALRO variety, closely shares its attributes with Shangi. Kenya Mpya is good for mashing and chips processing. This variety is easy to grow because it can be produced with virtually no need for fungicide sprays.

Dutch Robyjn variety, introduced in the Country over 50 years ago has remained the choice variety for crisps making in Kenya. One of its characteristic features is the round shaped tubers which enhances mechanization of peeling and other processing steps. It is neither too big nor too small and its crisps retain an appealing sensory attributes when processed. The flesh is cream yellow in color but the skin is rugged/rough red to pink depending on where it has been grown. It doesn’t soak in a lot of oil once fried and also is good for roasting since it accumulates enough starch, just like Unica.

Sherekea is tolerant to blight thus less spraying is needed and is good for stew, boiling or mashing purposes. It is red skinned in color, compact round shaped and its storability is great; can be stored without sprouting or deteriorating in quality for long time, just like Unica.

In order to effectively fulfil its research mandate, KALRO is the official custodian of all public varieties of potatoes in Kenya. KALRO’s role in the potato sub-sector spearhead research aimed at generation of technologies, innovations and management practices, useful for improving productivity and utilization of potato and potato products

“Superior varieties are the most conspicuous technologies from potato research. Each released variety is accompanied by appropriate production guidelines so that farmers get the best out of the varieties. A functioning seed system is essential in the delivery of new varieties to the potato sub-sector” elaborated Dr Nyongesa. It is difficult to talk about potato varieties in isolation without mentioning the seed because the seed is the ‘vehicle’ that delivers the variety to the farmers and other players in the industry. Apart from developing new varieties, KALRO has put in place appropriate mechanisms to support the seed potato industry. Because of its involvement in generation of varieties, stakeholders erroneously think KALRO is a Seed company. The role of KALRO in seed potato development, terminates at production of foundational/breeder seed of the respective variety.

The sub-sector requires investment in seed production where seed producing companies acquire breeder seed from KALRO for production of certified seed through field bulking in accordance with seed regulations.

“KALRO has responded to the challenge of shortage of certified seed potato in a variety of ways. One, the focus has been to increase the volume of breeder seed and directing it to registered seed companies for multiplication, so that it is not intercepted and taken to consumer market. This has been a key challenge leading to certified seed shortage in Kenya. Secondly, we encourage production of certified seed potato by partnering with private companies, to commercialize KALRO varieties. As a result of these interventions, the sub-sector has witnessed gradual increase in terms of volumes of seed potato produced and certified by the national regulatory agency (KEPHIS) year after year”, Dr Nyongesa elucidated.

Kenya is ranked 4th in Africa in being one of the largest producer of potatoes. The quantities produced have increased from 1.5 million metric tons to 2.8 million metric tons per year.

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