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European companies capture Kenya’s potato seed sector impoverishing farmers

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By George Munene

According to a paper published by The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), on 29th November of this year, new European-style laws and policies are resulting in the corporate grab and capture of the Kenyan potato seed sector by European companies via public-private partnerships (PPPs) criminalising age-old farmer-managed seed system and making potato farming too expensive for most smallholder farmers. 

The report notes: “The level at which foreign entities have been allowed to exact control over the seed industry is scary. Despite over 90 per cent of potato seed used in Kenya being sourced from farmer-managed seed systems, these remain marginalised and unsupported, while imported European potato seed varieties are prioritised and supported through regulations and trade agreements. Indeed, the potato seed sector in Kenya is viewed as an extremely lucrative business and market opportunity for European companies to exploit.

Tightly controlled value chains have been created, based on centralisation and standardisation, which allow only a few players to participate – from seed breeding and production to the distribution of seed –and the potato crop itself. Smallholder farmers are squeezed between their inability to meet expensive and onerous commercial standards and their age-old farming activities being criminalised.”

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Commercial value chains coerce smallholder farmers into becoming commercial farmers, essentially by requiring that they align themselves with registered growers’ associations, to sell their produce at centralised collection points. 

This entails huge transportation and packaging costs for the smallholder farmers and places

them at the mercy of potato cartels, with whom they must compete on an equal footing. The imposition of strict commercial standards, registration, and other requirements by the government for entry into the potato market entails the incurring of additional exorbitant costs that are out of reach of small-scale farmers, thus allowing only an elite group of players to participate in the value chain.

The construction of Kenya’s seed policy development is currently monopolised by the private sector, aided by public-private partnerships (PPPs) between the Consortium of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and its research centers, and multinational seed companies which aid the uptake and adoption of corporate seeds including genetically modified seeds.

The authors note that the Kenyan government has been complicit in embracing these destructive agricultural development paradigms, where farmers’ autonomy over their seeds and crops is being sacrificed at the altar of the highly regulated and extractive commercial agriculture systems. 

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In an effort to graduate smallholder farmers to commercial farming GoK has adopted draconian legislation such as the Seed and Plant Varieties Act (Cap. 326), and the Crops Act of 2013. The Seed and Plant Varieties Act (Cap. 326) considers ‘seed’ as only that which is certified, with increased efforts directed towards the adoption of certified seed.

The future for smallholder farmers and their seed and food systems looks extremely bleak with Kenya’s relinquishment of agriculture development to the private sector and foreign entities pushing smallholder farmers out of agriculture and the food systems in the country.

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