For the love of the potato, biotechnology shall ensure a steady supply!

by James Kamuye Kataru

Food is indeed an equalizer that cuts across the social stratosphere and uniquely unites all and sundry. Everybody consumes certain foods albeit in different forms, colors, and tastes but prepared from the same farm produce. You can pound it, kneed, boil, fry, roast, steam, or better still, just dry and grind it into fine flour without changing the primary product from the farm.

Images of an Irish potato farm. In Kenya, potatoes can be roasted, peeled and chopped, fried, pounded, mixed in beef stew, or even just boiled and served on dinner tables making the tuber one of the most sought-after ingredients of a healthy meal. Photo credit: AATF

The potato has seen much of the pounding, chopping, coloring, and spicing with lots of admiration from its consumers but never stopped being the good old potato. An evening stroll on the streets of coastal Kenya towns reveals lots of love and dependence on the tuber by folks who spend hours  presenting different mouthwatering dishes including the popular “viazi karai”, which is prepared by peeling potatoes after boiling, then dipping in the spiced, colored wheat dough, and deep frying in hot oil to a golden brown color!

In restaurants across the country, you’ll find different potato dishes on the menu. Some of the generous servings include bhajia, chips/fries, mashed potato, and beef stew that has been made appetizing with two or three peeled potatoes.

Long-distance travelers from upcountry headed to major towns relish the moment their bus stops at roadside potato vendor markets to allow them to buy the tuber and take it home as a present to their family and loved ones. The custom is so infectious that travelers will choose to skip buses known to bypass potato markets for those they are sure will surely stop by! 

The country has dedicated market days in all towns and urban dwellings on which farmers join other vendors and transport their farm produce in large quantities to such markets. The potato has never been missed on market days, and in case of a low supply, the price has always shot through the roof without deterring the tuber lovers’ carry.

As we start the Christmas festivities, there is going to be a great demand for potatoes by both the rich and poor in society who fetch them from different markets at different prices. During this season, every family spends their savings on a cooking frenzy with a focus on food that’s not commonly found on their dinner tables on average days. The potato is one such food that is mixed in meat stew, rice, or just fried and eaten in different forms.

Visitors and researchers on one of the Global Biotech Potato Partnership project test centers in Muguga Nairobi Kenya. The late blight-resistant varieties developed from the Shangi Global Biotech Potato partnership potato will be released for propagation soon after the National Biosafety regulators give it a clean bill of health. Photo credit: AATF

The Feed the Future Global Biotech Potato Project has provided a potato that when released in due time, promises a steady supply of the tuber which will increase the availability and meet the demand. The late blight-resistant potato is of the Shangi variety and will soon be released to farmers for propagation after satisfying all research and regulatory procedures.

With this improved variety, farmers will take home more money because it provides stable yields. This will provide consumers with a steady supply at stable prices as families enjoy good nutritional value from the tuber. In essence, those whose livelihoods rotate around potatoes shall have some of their major challenges solved.

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