Loss of nationalism and bad laws thwart food sovereignty in Kenya
A lack of nationalism and enabling policy framework continue to jeopardize efforts to achieve food and seed sovereignty in Africa. Dr. Daniel Maingi, the coordinator of Kenya Food Alliance and an ABN partner, explains how poorly-resourced small-scale farmers are exploited by profit-driven multinationals in Kenya.
The recent outcry in Kenya after the Kentucky Fried Chicken ‘ran out of potatoes’ highlights the heart of the problems in the country. This is the low level of Nationalism and the lack of, or poor, personal and national Food Sovereignty principles() that are being faced here. The lack of policy regulation on the market for locally produced crops, such as potatoes, and the prices charged by the powerful global corporates leaves the small-scale farmers with little or no profit. After all, the sweat of poorly-resourced small-scale potato farmers must also pay for children’s school fees, meet the costs of health care and feed their families. The hashtags by Kenya on Twitter (KoT) included #BoycotKFC, #ButLocalEatlocal and #Yes2ChipsMwitu trended during the debate and shows that some Kenyan consumers are morally sensitive. The debacle further signifies that KFC has crossed the ethical lines in Kenya, by pushing for the importing of industrial fast food fries and chicken into the country.
Is the potato a snack or a food security crop?
The question of the source of potatoes used to make fries goes deeper than the KFC saga. I propose that the fast food value chain stops the exploitation of consumers by conglomerates through their use of payments for patents, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and Plant Protection Rights (PPR).
To understand this issue, I categorize all potatoes into two types based on their use in Kenya. The first category is the potato used by fast-food joints and commercial industrial factories to make chips or fries mostly consumed by urban dwellers. This potato is also good for the manufacture of long-lasting chips and packaged fries for sale as snacks in chains stores, such as supermarkets. The second category of potato is the variety for boiling, a cooking potato that is also good for mashing into Kenyan cultural dishes such as Mukimo (mashed potatoes mixed with maize or green grams). This potato is included in almost all Kenyan meals and stews. It is this second use of the potato that is critical for Kenya’s national food security.
Globally, potatoes rank fourth after maize, rice and wheat. In Kenya, it is the second most important food crop after maize. It plays an important role as a staple food among many households. It also contributes to poverty alleviation through income generation approaches. An estimated 800,000 farmers grow potatoes in Kenya, while over 2.5 million Kenyans are employed along the potato value chain, either directly or indirectly. Potato production in Kenya is dominated by small-scale farmers. This explains why the fiasco with KFC caused such an uproar.
It is completely unimaginable that potatoes are routinely imported, benefiting Egyptians over Kenyans. In the past 5 years, Egypt has been importing vast amounts of seed potato from the Netherlands through corporations like FarmFrites(). Consequently, the country became a major multiplier of potato seeds. Hence, an exporter of processing potatoes (fries/chips and packaging) to the Middle East, Russia and the EU. KFC Kenya has also relied on Egypt to supply processing potatoes for the Kenyan market.
Profiteering through the “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” Project
Kenya has been at the forefront of “bending rules” to accommodate every foreign investor who demands royalty payments for any scientific innovation used locally in the agriculture or consumer marketplace. Agricultural value chains will be the bane of woes exerted by multinational corporations (MNC) against the rights of Kenyans, especially small-scale farmers. In the past decades, these MNCs have been at the negotiating tables led by AGRA() and the World Bank, pushing for Kenya to adopt laws that reduce small-scale farming to a mere source of cheap labour and agricultural commodities. These unfair laws include those of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV 91)() and those fronted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). In this category, there are policy regulations easing registration of fertilizers (relegating or even criminalizing the use of organic manures in Kenya), securing irrigation water, registering machinery, trading farmers’ produce as food commodities and accessing credit and loans in agriculture. Value chain slavery has matured in the entrenchment of the snack potato in Kenya.
In conclusion, I emphasise the following: Kenyan consumers must arrest their growing appetites for fast food and stay clear of imported broiler chickens and frozen fries, both for the sake of their health and to promote nationalism through the development and maintenance of local cuisines. Which is healthier? Real food and better support for the poorly resourced small-scale farmers? Or the conglomerate? French Fries or Mukimo? I choose the latter.
 Dekeyser, Koen, Lise Korsten, and Lorenzo Fioramonti. “Food sovereignty: Shifting debates on democratic food governance.” Food Security 10.1 (2018): 223-233.
 https://www.agroberichtenbuitenland.nl/specials/aardappelen/egypte Accessed Sunday, January 23, 2022
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliance_for_a_Green_Revolution_in_Africa Accessed Sunday, January 23, 2022
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Union_for_the_Protection_of_New_Varieties_of_Plants Accessed Sunday, January 23, 2022\