Strengthening the seed policy and regulatory framework for potato growers in Kenya

AGRICULTURAL
potato farmer in Kenya

By Yuan Zhou & Alva Kretschmer

Properly functioning seed systems are essential to agricultural development and food security. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it can take several years to register new seed varieties in a country, even when the varieties are already available in neighboring countries. Slow registration contributes to restricting smallholders’ access to improved seeds and limits their ability to increase yields.  

In Kenya, potato has emerged as one of the key staple crops and second most important crop in the country after maize. Potato is grown in a wide range of conditions, being produced mainly by smallholder farmers. Over the years, the area under production has been increasing as well as the volume and incomes generated. The potato sector employs over 3.5m people and contributes over USD 350 million to the economy (Kenya National Potato Strategy 2021-25).

However, the productivity per unit area has remained low. In 2021, the area of ware potato harvested was 214,600 ha, with a yield of 9.8 ton/ha (FAOSTAT, 2023). While there is high variability in yields, there is potential of up to 40 ton/ha. The low yields are due to poor agronomic practices coupled with low access and use of poor-quality seeds, use of unsuitable inputs, plus high postharvest losses. The Kenya National Potato Strategy 2021-2025 aims to help in guiding the transformation of the potato industry into a commercially oriented innovative and competitive sector.

In 2022, our Foundation in collaboration with New Markets Lab (NML) evaluated Kenya’s potato seed regulatory framework in the context of its ability to deliver improved seed varieties to farmers. The study investigates varietal breeding, registration and release, plant breeders’ rights, seed certification and quality assurance, and rules on import and export. The study is part of a series of publications in the framework of SFSA’s Seeds2B initiative and Partnership for Seed Technology Transfer in Africa (PASTTA).  

Our study findings show that despite the strategic importance of potato as a key food-security crop in Kenya, potato seed breeding and the popularization and marketing of new potato varieties still receives relatively limited funding. This contributes to a lack of market demand and knowledge of good new potato varieties. The registration and release procedures for potato are still comparatively slow and outdated, and variety registration protocols for emerging technologies like true potato seed are still fully absent.

Plant breeders’ rights and potato variety protection are also comparatively weak. This in turn increases the risk of third-party commercialization without authorization. Quality assurance of potato seed is another area that lacks behind. Since quality assurance is not systematically enforced, sub-standard varieties continue to exist at a large scale. Inspections and pest risk assessment for imported seed potato can be long, expensive, bureaucratic, and tedious due to understaffing and absence of a separate division on pest risk analysis department in the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). A new law that regulates the production and trade of ware potato is yet to be fully embraced.

Our study provides feasible and actionable recommendations to the government of Kenya on how to better advance public potato variety breeding, streamline potato variety registration and release and strengthen plant breeders’ rights for potato seed. The report also gives suggestions on how to better ensure quality control and upgrade trade and pest risk analyses to the ultimate benefit of Kenyan farmers.

Our Foundation will soon co-host a convening with KEPHIS and other relevant players in Kenya’s potato sector to review the current protocol for releasing new potato varieties with a goal of coming up with a new release criterion that better reflects market needs.

Alongside measures to improve national seed regulations around potato, we also believe in the potential of seed regional harmonization. Mutual recognition of varietal registration and easier movement of seeds between countries, especially within the same Regional Economic Community (REC), would significantly reduce costs and delays. Other seed policy changes would simplify and increase the transparency of procedures related to import/export licenses, and phytosanitary controls. These measures would greatly stimulate suppliers’ and farmers’ investment in seeds, and in other yield-raising inputs such as fertilizers.   

 

The full report is available here.