Scottish seed potatoes flourish in Kenyan heat

Potatoes from a Kenyan farm
Potatoes grown in the Kibirichia area of Mount Kenya. Photo: CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) used under the Creative Commons licence.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have revealed that Scottish seed potatoes sent to Kenya have performed strongly on three trial sites.

The farming organisation has been working with Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) to open the Kenyan market for seed potatoes since a bilateral agreement was signed by the Scottish and Kenyan governments in 2016.

Three different farms were chosen to assess the yield and quality of well-known British varieties; Cara, Hermes, Russet Burbank and Atlantic.

After the seeds had been exported and planted on the three test sites, the strongest performing variety was found to be Cara which produced average yields across all three farms at more than 20 tonnes per acre.

Hermes and Russet Burbank achieved average yields of 16.5 tonnes per acre, while Atlantic achieved just over 14tonnes an acre.

While the yields were similar to those achieved in Britain, AHDB said they were much higher than those normally achieved by farmers in Kenya.

Typically, they experience yields of around 4 tonnes per acre which is blamed on the fact that 95% of farmers in the country use poor quality home-saved seed, rather than high-quality imported seed.

Poor-quality seed has been blamed for endemic spread of diseases and the Kenyan Government was keen to approve new, high health seed varieties to not only limit the spread of diseases but also improve yields.

The four varieties will now be planted for a second season. If they once again perform well, they could be approved for export to Kenya.

SASA exports co-ordinator, Jackie Gibson, said the opening of the Kenyan market could create significant opportunities for seed potato exporters.

According to AHDB head of crop trade development, Rob Burns, the success of the trial has led to the body looking into other African markets, such as Rwanda which they will be visiting later this month on a trade mission with the Department for International Development (DFID).