By Angela Hansen and Michael Davis
What am I? Indigenous to the Andes, I’m the #2 grown crop in Kenya and Rwanda. The average “global citizen” eats nearly 75 lbs of me a year. In East Africa, my demand is a multibillion dollar unmet opportunity.
I’m a captivating child’s toy whose ears and accessories were the first toys ever advertised on television, but I’ve also been responsible for some of history’s greatest famines.
Guessed it yet?
If you said an Irish potato, full marks and a hat tip to you.
Irish potatoes are not only a crop of immense importance but are also a significant economic opportunity in East Africa. The product is a staple in the region, and with continuing urbanization and growth of the middle class, demand for potatoes and their derivatives (particularly chips and crisps) is expected to continue growing quickly. As only 20% of potatoes grown in East Africa are currently sold for processing – versus 50% in most developed nations – the room for growth can’t be underestimated.
So is all this opportunity creating a reliable income stream for the 2.2 million smallholder farmers currently growing potatoes in East Africa? Sadly no. A historic lack of support from government and investment from companies has left the potato value chain highly fragmented and disorganized with too few aggregators creating economies of scale. Farmers are not growing the quantity, quality, and variety of potatoes markets require, which in turn has resulted in processors not being able to utilize their full capacity. Increasing demand for potatoes, particularly for processing, is currently met through imports, which have increased 30% year on year since 2001.
Supply is significant. Demand is growing. Yet, like too many other crops in Africa, one does not seem to match the other. What is to be done? Grow Africa recently engaged with Dalberg on this very question. In order to take advantage of opportunities in the value chain we found that:
In the short term, governments should support development of the seed and storage sub-sectors, and companies should invest there.