Monday, 19 December 2011


'If you are talking about the African economy you are talking about Agriculture,'  Kevin Kinusu

'We cannot claim to have won, the purpose of UNFCCC COPs is not to emerge any group as a winner and another as a loser, but to facilitate the world to agree, and we had an agreement in Durban. Let’s focus on how the agreement can move as a mile in the struggle against Climate Change and its Impacts on our people'...Kevin Kinusu

Kevin Kinusu addressing a session during the just completed COP17. Courtesy of

Written on the 28th November 2011

Potato Council? That is the first thing l chorused when l first heard about the organization that Kevin Kinusu, the program officer represents. My next question was, ‘what does the Potato Council do?’ It turns out quite a lot. We sat for this interview at around 1am as we had some tea in Durban, South Africa. Yes, The Caravan reoriented our work times so that interviews could take place any time.

Genesis of The National Potato Council of Kenya

The National Potato council of Kenya was formed to coordinate the potato value chain actors. The potato value chain is a composed of all the actors and players in the potato industry including Agrodealers, producers, traders, researchers, Government, industries, parastatals and farmer organizations.
The Association commenced in 2005 when a Potato Value Chain Committee was formed. It covered all industry actors who included farmers, traders, government, parastatals and private sector and the processors.
There were several critical areas of focus by the committee. First it was about the standards. Kevin tells me that potato as a crop requires high standards, looking out for pest and disease especially bacterial wilt. This soil borne disease, he tells me, is so vicious that it takes 7 years of a farmer doing land rotation for him to recover.  The second issue was marketing. ‘We didn’t effective enforcement of standards most importantly packaging standards. These were available but not implemented, ‘ Kevin notes.

The Standards Explained

The potato agronomic and post harvest handling standards are well articulated in the legal notices number 44 and legal notice number 113 which are yet to be enforced effectively .Legal Notice number 44 was developed in 2005 while Legal notice number 113 was  in 2008 to back the first one. Both legal notices cover issues of packaging standards. Kevin explains that, ‘Legal notice Number 113 is specifically about packaging and it specifies  110 kilogram for both white and red potato varieties for local standards.’ There are specific packaging standards for international markets. On the other hand, Legal Notice Number 44 covers agronomic practices, the potato as a source of food security, production of quality seed potato, production of quality ware potatoes, empowerment and active involvement of farmers in potato marketing..

Recommendation of the Value Chain Committee

The value chain committee recommended a national body that would coordinate different bodies inorder to have solutions to deal with the problems that were arising in the industry. Kevin says, ‘The coordinating body is a good idea because of the diversity of the players in the industry.’ 

The KEPHIS Example

He gives me an example of KEPHIS which is a main regulator that checks seed quality. He adds that, ‘The importance of KEPHIS is that it is a key player in dealing with the issue of the shortage of certified seed in Kenya.’ Kevin cites a South African example where there is 98% certified seed while in Kenya we have 3%. Further, South Africa has 800 potato farmers, in Kenya we have 800,000 farmers which means we need more seed. Kenya has more potential for the seed market and yet we have all these farmers without certified seed. Kevin points out, that ‘1% certified seed means out of 800,000 farmers, only 8,000 use certified seed.’ Noting that, ‘ One of the greatest challenge was to sort out  is this issue of certified seed.’ And the Potato Council began processes to sort it out.

Doing Something about Certified Seeds

In 2010, the Potato Council carried out a comprehensive survey that in essence indicated who needs seed, their location and varieties and amounts they needed for planting. ‘It was detailed because it was important to match demands that needed to be supplied,’ Kevin points out

So as we wind up l ask Kevin what his expectations are of COP17 for farmers. Without losing a beat he says, ‘When you talk about adaptation to the farmers, you are indeed dealing with two challenges; Financing and crop security.’
He explains that , ‘Planting one or two acres is an investment and the security the farmer has is based on the weather.’ ‘The reason we think potato could be a solid crop is that it is a short seasoned crop,’ he adds. If it is planted in January, it means around April farmers area harvesting.

Other than the short season, the yields in potatoes are huge compared to what a farmer can make from maize. The average production is 40 to 60 tons per hectare which could easily translate to Kshs600,000. Compare it to the maize is way higher. The potato market is broad and massive. We have many channels of use of the potato that cut across both domestic and commercial use.

Kevin tells me that Kenya has for a long time concentrated on highland variety that can be grown in cool places. ‘We are now working towards having a breed that will grow in ASAL areas like Wajir, Mwingi and Machakos,’ Kevin says adding, ‘To do this will translate to food security for these areas.’
So the importance of this COP cannot be underestimated. ‘For a new innovation like the potato council we think our efforts  at national levels can be complimented if the agreements at UNFCCC are supportive of the Africa development agenda,’ l nod knowingly.

Here is where the financing support comes in.  ‘If we are dealing with poor farmers it means if we want to introduce new technology or irrigation, this means calculating the expense that farmers would need to be backed up,’ Kevin says. Change of technology and taking up of modern farming requires heavy financing
The decision on adaptation funding has some bearing on whether farmers in Kenya would actually improve resilience. It is not just about adaptation. ‘Let’s look at agriculture. Can COP17 develop a work program for agriculture? Developing this would translate into direct financial considerations specifically for agriculture, ‘notes Kevin. He goes on, ‘ This issue was raised in COP15 but in passing . In COP16 it was never mentioned. This time round the African farmers believe it is about time for it to be given priority.’

It is not just talk for Kevin

The East African Farmers Federation is presenting this position that we need a working program for agriculture agreed upon in COP17.‘ If you are talkingabout the African economy you are talking about Agriculture.Countries in Africa depend on Agriculture as their main stay,’ Kevin says.

Post COP17

Even though we did not have a work programme on agriculture put in place, I would want to point out that this cop was a tall order and I must salute the presidency for her good effort. The few steps made are mach appreciated given how the situation was. I can only hope that we as Africa can maximally take advantage of the climate green fund which will most likely be available by 2012 as commitments are already being given; we can also take advantage of the  agreements on the considerations for  adaptive capacities above all of the poorest and most vulnerable countries to be strengthened.  We cannot claim to have won, the purpose of UNFCCC COPs is not to emerge any group as a winner and another as a loser, but to facilitate the world to agree, and we had an agreement in Durban let’s focus on how the agreement can move as a mile in the struggle against Climate Change and its Impacts on our people.

By Maria Wanza

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