Potato producers, KFC in talks over purchase of local varieties

Thursday, January 6th, 2022 06:30 | By
Fast food chain KFC has suffered a shortage of potatoes at its outlets, attributing it to delays in delivery from its overseas suppliers. Photo/File

Kenya has adequate potato varieties suitable for production of snack food sold by top hotels and other eateries, agriculture value chains stated yesterday.

Local producers, under the umbrella body of National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK), said Kenya enjoys 62 different varieties which are appropriate and can be used by subsidiaries of food chains and international brands, including Kentucky Fried Kitchen (KFC).

Wachira Kaguongo, NPCK chief executive officer said the country has numerous potato varieties endowed with rich characteristics which can be used to produce fast food for consumption both locally and internationally.

Local popular potato varieties such as Shangi and Unica are said not to be suitable for chips and crisp production by established hotels and restaurants but  the same are largely used in small hotels located in the various trading and urban centres in rural areas.

Early this week, KFC announced that shortage of potatoes at its outlets in Kenya was as a result of delays in delivery from its overseas suppliers, forcing it to offer customers alternative food items in place of French fries.

The firm’s CEO for East Africa Jacques Theunissen said shortage of chips, as they are commonly known in Kenya, was due to a hitch in global supply of potatoes.

“It has to do with delays in shipping lines due to the Covid situation. Ships have been delayed for more than a month now, but we are working hard to restore as the first containers are arriving in the port tomorrow (today),” said Theunissen.

High value markets

KFC currently operates more than 32 branches in East Africa out of which over 60 per cent are located in Kenya.

High value markets where KFC operates have stringent conditions that farmers from the third world find hard to achieve. 

Equally, farmers are unable to produce quality products due to high cost of production, for instance, cost of energy, water, labour and transportation among others.

Kenyans took to the social media criticising the company, saying its business model which relies on imports is in disregard of the local produce.

They also censured the government accusing it of allowing imports over local commodities.

Yesterday, Kaguongo said his organisation has initiated talks with the franchise company as part of expanding business opportunities to local value chains.

”We have varieties that have specifications which fit the KFC business model.

We have formally initiated talks with them as part of exposing them to the varieties as well as creating opportunities to the local potato stakeholders,” he told Business Hub in a phone interview.

For example, Kaguongo said a local variety called Markies promoted by Agrico East Africa is a very good potato for French fries (chips) and is in big demand all over Kenya. 

“Processors, hotels and restaurants highly value it for its frying characteristics and taste,” he added.

NPCK is a member group organisation that includes farmers, researchers, public institutions, extension service providers, seed producers, traders, processors, regulatory agencies, financial service providers, input providers, ministry of agriculture for national and county governments, development partners and other actors.

Kaguongo said the admission by KFC that it will start purchasing potatoes from local farmers is a big business opportunity for seed companies, farmers, transporters, processors and hotels.

The country, he said produces between 1.5 million and 2.5 million kilos annually and the same is consumed fully.  

Nyandarua County leads in potato production followed by Meru, Nyeri, Kiambu, Taita-Taveta, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Trans-Nzoia, Bungoma, Uasin- Gishu and West Pokot. 

Producing counties

Other potato producing counties include Kisii, Nyamira, Kirinyaga, Muranga, Baringo, Nandi, Laikipia and Kericho.

Upcoming potato producing counties include Machakos, Makueni, Embu, Kajiado, Tharaka Nithi, Samburu, Kwale and Nairobi.

A media briefing that had been called  for Food directorate of the Agriculture food Authority (AFA) and other value chains failed at the last minute as the directorate director Beatrice Nyamwamu confirmed that crucial issues are yet to be agreed. 

“As a directorate we are meeting with value chains to address various issues in the industry,” she said. 

But when asked whether the meeting was specifically convened to discuss the KFC issue, the director skirted the question but hastened to add that the matter will be handled by the office of the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya soon.

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