In Summary
  • Infested potatoes usually show early maturity, produce tiny tubers and are usually stunted. Up to now, there is no known chemical or biological agent that can control the pest.
  • The pest can remain in the soil for up to 30 years.
  • Potato is the second most important crop in the country after maize.
  • The government can only produce about 1 per cent of potato seed required while 99 per cent used by farmers is uncertified, which has been blamed for the rapid spread of diseases and pests such as PCN.

Infestation of potatoes by the Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN), a deadly pest that was discovered in the country two years ago, has reached alarming levels.

A survey done in 20 counties through support from United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), whose results were released two weeks ago, shows that PCN infestation has reached 80 per cent to 100 per cent in some of the potato growing areas.

The study shows that the future of potato production is bleak unless the government takes emergency measures to stem the rapid spread of the devastating pest.

PCN (Globodera rostociensis or Globodera pallida) is classified as a quarantine pest by FAO, meaning that in countries where it is detected, tough restrictions are imposed.

This include ban on potato production and transport to other growing regions and even countries to stop spread. The pest can remain in the soil for up to 30 years.

Infested potatoes usually show early maturity, produce tiny tubers and are usually stunted. Up to now, there is no known chemical or biological agent that can control the pest.

Nyandarua leads with a prevalence rate of 91 per cent followed by Elgeyo Marakwet (87 per cent), Nakuru 88 per cent and Narok (88 per cent).

Other counties with high infestation levels are Trans-Nzoia (100 percent), West Pokot (100 percent) and Taita Taveta (100 percent).

However, the three are not major potato producers. Of the 1,200 potato growing farms sampled in the survey, only four that produce seeds were found to be free of the pest.  

Importation of whole potato tubers into the country has been blamed for the introduction of the pest. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) is supposed to ensure that any potato seed brought in has to be in form of invitro plantlets that are quarantined at its station in Muguga and tested for pests and diseases before being put in experimentation plot for trials and eventual release as seeds as stipulated under the Seed and Plant Varieties Act Cap 325. 

However, the Ministry of Agriculture has at times gone around this requirement and allowed imports of potatoes from Netherlands and other European countries into citing potato seed shortage.

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