Kenyans were sharply divided on the decision by Fast food chain KFC to snub locally grown potatoes in favour of deliveries from its overseas suppliers over alleged low quality.
They thronged social media sites where they put their heat on the American food chain company that appeared to cave in under pressure and announced that they will start considering local produce.
The KFC saga has however opened a can of worms regarding the quality of agricultural products produced in Kenya and whether they meet the required pesticide and herbicide residual levels – putting local farmers and regulators on the spot.
According to farmers in Nyandarua and Nakuru who spoke to News Today directed their anger on lenient government business policies that allow foreign firms to operate without benefitting Kenyans.
“It is very sad that while potatoes are going to waste in Nyandarua and elsewhere, KFC is insisting on importing potatoes into Kenya. Our country can produce endless quantities of potatoes,” said Andrew Muhia, a potato farmer based in Ol Karau.
“Who negotiates these trade deals? Imagine what it could have done to the Kenyan potato farmer had our government insisted that one of the conditions for KFC to be given market access was to buy its raw material from Kenya including chicken,” Muhia said.
On her part Agnes Mugure expressed her frustration at the manner government agencies rush to enter into trade deals with foreign business outlets without the welfare of Kenyans at heart.
“What our country surely needs is not mere foreign capital but patriotic and informed leadership. The ordinary Kenyan will then thrive to become an even better wealth creator and taxpayer,” the Nakuru based potato farmer said.
“Why must our country give away its family silver to benefit farmers and underwrite jobs in other countries? Posed Kamau Ndirangu.
He said potato farmers have been counting losses since the pandemic hit, leading to the closure of hotels that provide them with a ready market. This pushed the prices down, with tens of traders shying away from buying the potatoes from the farmers.
“Our problem started a couple of weeks after Covid-19 was reported in the country, and since then, we have never recovered. Then there is an outright opportunity to sell our produce to such an international player yet government bureaucracy is at play,” he said.
However popular blogger Mwangi Kibathi has taken a swipe at Kenyan potato farmers over the quality of their produce. “Let us just accept we are so used to crappy quality as Kenyans. We get surprised when a foreign company insists on better quality,” Kibathi wrote.
Kibathi noted that in the US and UK among other western countries the food cooked and sold in supermarkets and restaurants comes with an expiry date.
“Does your favourite supermarket throw away food after some specific time? Are we even sure they throw it away after some specific time? Are we even sure they throw it away as they close at night?” posed Kibathi.
He further noted that Kenyans over the years are used to poor quality. “Ask how many hardware shops sell ‘reject’ quality mabati or even bakeries that sell ‘reject’ bread. Poor quality is our style but certainly not KFC style,” he added
This is set to deny local farmers whose product goes to waste during harvesting seasons the chance to reap from the lucrative tenders, especially during shortages like this. It is also not clear why it has taken the company more than 10 years to vet local farmers or support the value chain to meet its standards like the case with other multinationals.
This comes at a time potato has become the second most important food crop after maize, grown by 800,000 small-scale farmers and generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along the value chain. It is estimated to contribute more than Sh50 billion to the Kenyan economy.
Recently the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) warned that it would take a couple of years for the agriculture sector to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic. The pandemic saw hotels shut down, import and export of farm inputs banned, and borders closed.